Apollo Engineer Honored By Intrepid Museum—Report

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New York’s Intrepid Museum is hosting from May 23 Apollo events by honoring Margaret Hamilton, a software engineer with Apollo’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The engineer had led the programmers’ team who operated computers on landing module and command module of the mission of Apollo 11. When Hamilton started her career, this field was in such a nascent stage that ‘software engineering’ was not there. This term was coined by Hamilton.

During her awards speech, Hamilton said that the experience of software was very exciting. She added that as developers they had the chance to make all kinds of error possible humanly. All these errors were clearly made before the launch of Apollo 11. She said that as she and her colleagues were very conscious that the software needed to be extremely well-tuned as lives of astronauts was at stake. Hamilton added that the software should be ultra-reliable and it needs to be capable enough to detect error and also recover from the error in time. She added that there are issues that need to be resolved; issues that had never been solved before.

Hamilton recounted the mission’s major point, when astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were getting ready to touch down. She said that everything was perfect and Walter Cronkite had been reporting in detail the mission. This was when suddenly an unexpected thing happened. Right when the astronauts were landing on moon, the priority displays of the software interrupted the normal displays of the mission and it replaced the displays with priority alarm to warn that they had encountered an emergency situation.

A switch triggered this alert which was misaligned and the astronauts fixed the problem and they landed safely. Hamilton said that the astronauts of Apollo 11 were the first humans who walked on moon. She added that their software was the first one to function on moon.

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