The Cipher Girls

Margaret Hamilton

Mathematician, developer of software for the Apollo 11 mission.

There was no choice but to be pioneers; no time to be beginners – she recounted years later.

Margaret (née Heafield) was born on 17 August 1936 in Paoli, Indiana. She discovered her passion for mathematics when she was in high school and later received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. She dreamed of becoming a professor of mathematics and start her own research in abstract mathematics.

After graduation, she accepted a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she developed various weather forecasting software using PDP-1 and LGP-30 computers. At the university, in the meteorology

department, she met Edward Lorenz, whom she assisted with the publication of his paper on chaos theory.

Because of her outstanding programming skills, she joined Lincoln Laboratory, where she was involved in the design of the first Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defence system. She again demonstrated unparalleled skills, independently writing software for an aircraft identification system.

Her talent was recognised by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She was entrusted to lead a team responsible for developing software for the guidance and on-board command control systems of the Apollo mission modules. It was thanks to her work and correct calculations that the Apollo 11 mission spacecraft with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on board, landed safely on the surface of the Moon on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

Hamilton believed that the tasks she and her team performed were just as important as the actions taken by the crew aboard Apollo. The methods she created for preventing system errors and recovering information in the event of computer failure became the the foundation of a new branch of technology known today as software engineering.

The merits of the programmer, who significantly influenced the development of the scientific world, were recognised by the largest American institutions. She received the Exceptional Space Act Award (2003) from NASA and in 2016, US President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.