Kids, Code, and Computer Science Magazine

Margaret Hamilton

NASA

She was in her 30s when she led the team that developed mission critical software used guide the Apollo moon landings.

Today we take for granted software works well and solves a wide range of problems. But software didn’t always work this way. Or need to work this way. The Apollo moon landing needed a guidance system that could handle errors, prioritize tasks, execute tasks at different times, and more. Many of these demands were new to computing. Margaret Hamilton led the team that developed this new software.

If you have ever flown on an airplane, you probably know some of the flight was managed by computers. You also may have heard Airbus recently acknowledged the crash of a Spanish A400 plane was caused by faulty software configuration of the engines.

Now imagine in the mid to late 1960s designing computer hardware and software to land human beings on the moon, almost fifty years ago. Ideas about fault tolerance in real life computer systems were new. And the tight space limitations of the lunar lander required using another new technology, microchips on computer boards. Today we take both fault tolerance and microchips for granted. It’s rare when one or both cause a crash and loss of human life.

That wasn’t the case for the Apollo moon landing missions.

Margaret Hamilton, a self taught programmer with advanced math degrees, managed a team at the MIT Instrumentation Lab that won the NASA contract to write guidance software to land the first human beings on the moon. Their software had to accept inputs from a number of sensors which tracked speed, location, and other details then manage the data to answer questions from the astronauts in real time and signal as problems happened.

There were no code bases or earlier software projects to learn from. The software and programming techniques had to be created from scratch.

 

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Also In The August 2015 Issue

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She was in her 30s when she led the team that developed mission critical software used guide the Apollo moon landings.

Learn about and explore the code used to guide Apollo missions.

CRUD is a powerful concept used everywhere in software programming that uses a database.

Links from the bottom of all the August 2015 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.

Interesting stories about computer science, software programming, and technology for August 2015.

Some thoughts on starting the third year of publishing this magazine and what's new this month.