Thinking of NASA the first thing picture that would come into your mind is definitely Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. That was mankind’s first mission to accomplish the task of landing on the surface of the moon. It was 4th of July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon.
Now let’s take a throwback on this successful mission of NASA where we will know about an amazing super woman who was the NASA’s first software engineer, Margaret Hamilton.
Obviously landing on the moon was such a mission that had no room for errors and she created such a software that worked out according to her plan and it had no errors in it and worked out successfully.
Born 33 years ago before the mission Hamilton took her education mathematics and philosophy before taking the research position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As a mathematics graduate she first met computer at the MIT and yes of course as mathematics graduate she had a high anticipation on working with the computers and her great interest helped her to reach the milestone of developing the software for America’s first air defense system to search for enemy aircraft at the MIT’s Lincoln laboratory.
(Charles Draper USA’s renowned engineer)
Following that she heard that America’s renowned engineer Charles Draper was looking for engineers for helping man to reach the moon and without any further delay she immediately joined his team. In fact NASA looked to Draper and his group of 400 engineers to invent the first compact digital flight computer the “Apollo Guidance Computer” and this computer would be responsible for guiding, navigating and controlling the spacecraft.
(APOLLO Guided Computer)
At that time compact computers were rare and computers took largely huge quantity of space which is actually a size of a big room so designing a compact size computer was a huge challenge and Draper’s team built the computer which had to be error free and fit in one cubic foot of space. He divided his team into two departments the hardware department and the software department. The software department was led by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton’s team built the on board flight software for both command and lunar modules (used for descent to the lunar surface and served as a base while the astronauts were on the Moon.) It was to make sure that her every programs for the software had to be perfect and it had to quickly detect the unexpected errors and recover quickly to conduct such task she designed her software in such a way that it would only take commands of the important ones avoiding the less important one. Her team assigned each and every task with unique priority. Just to make sure that her software works properly she made it asynchronous where she designed priority display that would always alert the astronauts about the emergency and they would communicate with mission control. This marked for the first time an inflight software communicated directly would the pilot asynchronously.
It was obvious that there would be a mistake by the astronauts and Buzz Aldrin was going to do such mistakes so as he turned the switch for landing that would take them safely to home after mission completion that is when the alarm bell rang and he quickly shifted the switch and communicated with the mission control for landing looking at the priority display designed by Hamilton and yes her software worked perfectly. Therefore Apollo Guidance computer was well equipped to manage this problem and software researched programs allowed only highest priority jobs to be processed including the programs necessary for landing.
The Apollo landing was joint effort of the astronauts, mission control, the software and hardware engineers all working together as an integrated system.
Hamilton’s Contribution were essential to the works of engineers and scientists who were inspired from John F. Kennedy’s goal to reach the moon. It’s really interesting and a great achievement for her to add more there were no bugs in flight software for any Apollo missions.
She later on founded her own company named “Hamilton Technologies Inc.” to breakthrough for systems and software.
In 2003 NASA awarded her the largest financial award which was “Presidential Medal of Freedom” for changing the way we think of technologies.
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