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Margaret Hamilton: Powerful Woman and Rocket Scientist

Author: Haleigh Pace

Here at PDub, we pride ourselves on fostering a community around being and supporting powerful women in the dorm. Our responsibility extends beyond the walls of PDub in educating ourselves on the women that paved the way. Many of these influential women have been overlooked in history classes or mainstream media; so, it is up to us to share their stories.

Margaret Hamilton, in 1969, with the Apollo mission’s program listings.

Allow me to introduce to you the real-life rocket scientist (or more specifically, software engineer), Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton, born in 1936, grew up here in Indiana roughly four hours south of our beloved Notre Dame. She, like some of the wonderful women of PDub, had a love for all things math and science. After earning a degree in mathematics from Earlham College, Hamilton briefly pursued her graduate studies before taking a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she developed weather-predicting software. Upon learning of MIT’s involvement with the Apollo moon landing, Hamilton became the first programmer hired to construct software for the mission. The principal task of Hamilton’s team was to improve the reliability of the software that was to be used; that is, they were to improve error detection systems and the displays of various tasks. Hamilton’s innovative technology proved to be vital when the mission faced system errors that put the moon landing in jeopardy; her technology allowed the computer system to rid itself of the less important tasks allowing primary focus on steering and landing the ship. Similar technology continued to be successfully utilized throughout the Apollo missions and the basis for the software used in later projects. Hamilton later founded two companies: Higher Order Software and Hamilton Technologies.

Throughout her career, Hamilton has shaped the scientific community by paving the way for modern-day software engineering.

In 2003, NASA awarded Hamilton the Exceptional Space Act Award along with the largest monetary prize presented at the time. Then, in 2016, President Obama honored Hamilton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the most prestigious civilian award.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the world of scientifically significant women or would like a feel-good movie recommendation, the 2016 film Hidden Figures follows the narrative of similarly powerful women who were the brains behind NASA during the Space Race.


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