In a award ceremony that took place the other day, US President Obama awarded his last Presidential Medal of Freedom to software engineer Margaret Hamilton.
Margaret Hamilton, aged 80, wrote the software for the Apollo space mission back in the 1960s. She created the software that helped land the lunar module and it’s crew on the moon back in 1969. Having been a computer programmer at MIT, she worked on the in-flight software once NASA issued a contract to MIT. The system included overseeing alarms and warnings, but still focusing on critical tasks.
This would prove to be crucial on the day as moments leading up to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s Moon landing where the system drew attention to a faulty radar. Thankfully, due to the system that Margaret Hamilton worked on, the landing went ahead smoothly thanks to the computer refocusing it’s priorities.
“If the computer hadn’t recognized this problem and taken recovery action, I doubt if Apollo 11 would have been the successful moon landing it was,” Margaret Hamilton wrote about the events in 1971.
When President Obama awarded the medal to Margaret Hamilton he commented that “Our astronauts didn’t have much time, but thankfully they had Margaret Hamilton,”.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honour that can be awarded and is, understandably, a proud moment for those who are awarded it.