Massive moonlit tribute to Margaret Hamilton, pioneering woman who made the Moon landing possible


California’s Mojave Desert has been the setting for a number of stories about phenomena from space. On July 18, 2019, it was the site of a phenomenal tribute to one of the remarkable women who made space travel possible: Margaret Hamilton, 82, credited with inventing the term “software engineer.” In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Google positioned 107,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Facility to reflect the moonlight and reveal Hamilton’s portrait.

The moonlit display was big enough to fit more than 200 Eiffel Towers.

According to CNN:

“The artwork, at more than 1.4 square miles wide, is larger than New York’s Central Park, Google says. It was staged on the grounds of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the world’s largest solar thermal power plant.”
Moonlit display via YouTube
Hamilton’s Apollo guidance computer was a “lifeline for astronauts” that controlled the spacecraft.  Thanks in part to her, the astronauts planted the flag on the Moon on July 16, 1969.
The computer processor was put through rigorous testing, in part by Hamilton’s daughter, Lauren, who played a vital role when she accompanied her mother at the office on weekends. While playing in the simulator, Lauren hit a button that crashed the simulated flight. The young child’s play as an astronaut prompted her mother to program failsafes preventing the real-life astronauts from making similar mistakes in space.
The spacecraft’s lunar module was about to overload as it neared the Moon, but Hamilton’s software was ready, clearing the tasks in the system to prevent the emergency. The mission would have been forced to abort if not for Hamilton’s preparedness. Today, we recognize Hamilton’s work as making the Apollo 11 mission possible at the 50th-anniversary celebrations.
Hamilton led the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sofware Engineering Division, which contracted with NASA to develop the Apollo guidance system. She found the work as exciting as the Moon landing itself.
“From my own perspective, the software experience itself (designing it, developing it, evolving it, watching it perform and learning from it for future systems) was at least as exciting as the events surrounding the mission. There was no second chance. We knew that. We took our work seriously, many of us beginning this journey while still in our 20s,” said Hamilton.
“Coming up with solutions and new ideas was an adventure. Dedication and commitment were a given. Mutual respect was across the board. Because software was a mystery, a black box, upper management gave us total freedom and trust. We had to find a way, and we did. Looking back, we were the luckiest people in the world; there was no choice but to be pioneers.”
Although she didn’t receive the glory that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got at the time, she finally is today. President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
During her work, she wrote so much code for the computer that it filled a stack of books as tall as she was. The pictures of her with these books from 1969 are now iconic.
“Here, Margaret is shown standing beside listings of the software developed by her and the team she was in charge of, the LM [lunar module] and CM [command module] on-board flight software team.”

 

Margaret Hamilton via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Hamilton, along with amazing women like “human computer” Katherine Johnson and other black female pioneers, made the Moon landing a reality. They not only pioneered journeys into space but also pioneered the way for womens’ equality, a goal we are closer to today thanks to their determination and unparalleled excellence.

 

See the Margaret Hamilton by Moonlight project below from Google:


Margaret Hamilton from Wikimedia Commons with screenshot via YouTube


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Corbin Black

Corbin has written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, with a background in biology, art, and design. He maintains a healthy dose of skepticism while keeping an open mind on topics like extraterrestrials and unknown phenomenon. Every day, there is more fascinating news to ponder. He hopes to inspire that sense of wonder and imagination in our readers.

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