Neil Armstrong's small step and humankind's large one was brought to you by....ta-dah! A woman.
Yep. Her name was Margaret Hamilton, and without her brains (yes, blonds are smart) the lunar landing might have been aborted.
This past week, forty-four years ago, alarm bells went off on Apollo 11's on-board computers shortly before the scheduled lunar landing. Well, back in 1969, when women got coffee for the boss, thank God, they also wrote code.
Margaret not only headed the MIT team that programmed Apollo 11's computers, she made certain the software was rigorously tested.
“I remember thinking, Oh my God, it worked,” the pioneering software engineer told TIME for a copyrighted article out this week. “I was so happy. But I was more happy about it working than about the fact that we landed.”
Prior to Armstrong's step on the moon, the computer was processing superfluous information leaving too little room on to run the landing software. But the testing Margaret had done prior to blast off, paid off. The computer had been programmed to solve the problem itself.
“It got rid of the lesser priority jobs and kept the higher priority jobs, which included the landing functions,” Margaret told TIME.
Margaret received little attention for her work in 1969, but NASA did award her the Exceptional Space Act Award.
Some of the news coverage she did receive highlights the male chauvinism of the times. One reporter called the 31-year-old woman a "tiny girl with long blond hair." See more here...
Thanks to Jessie Stickgold-Sarah for the photo and bringing this issue to the forefront on her blog.
Great post here from the Columbia Journalism Review on the gender gap in the sciences. Is the news media helping or hindering?
Compare the 1969 headline with the one below from July 20, 2015.
Margaret Hamilton continues her work in computer engineering today, and thing may have improved in general for women since 1969, but in the sciences there are still far fewer women than men in research jobs, and those women earn substantially less than their male counterparts.
You can see this 2015 article by Dylan Matthews here...
Margaret first used a term we all take for granted today. "I began to use the term 'software engineering' to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering," Hamilton told Verne's Jaime Rubio Hancock in an interview.
"When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline."
Code was originally considered women's work because it required a lot of typing like a clerical job. Boys are writing much more code today, than girls. Check out this movement Girls Who Code and make sure the girls in your life know about it.
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