Margaret Hamilton: ‘They worried that the men might rebel. They didn’t’

The trailblazing computer scientist talks about being in charge of the software for the 1969 Apollo moon landing.


Published 13 July 2019,

Margaret Hamilton (born August 17, 1936) is an American computer scientist and systems engineer. She was director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo space program.

Computer pioneer Margaret Hamilton was critical to landing astronauts on the moon for the first time on 20 July 1969 and returning them safely a few days later. The young Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) computer programmer and working mother led the team that created the onboard flight software for the Apollo missions, including Apollo 11. The computer system was the most sophisticated of its day. Her rigorous approach was so successful that no software bugs were ever known to have occurred during any crewed Apollo missions.

In sixties, Hamilton joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT, which worked on the Apollo space mission. She eventually led a team credited with developing the software for Apollo and Skylab. Hamilton’s team was responsible for developing in-flight software, which included algorithms designed by various senior scientists for the Apollo command module, lunar lander and the subsequent Skylab. Another part of her team designed and developed the systems software. This included error detection and recovery software such as restarts and the Display Interface Routines, which Hamilton designed and developed. She worked to gain hands-on experience during a time when computer science courses were uncommon and software engineering courses did not exist. Hamilton also served as Director of the Software Engineering Division

On the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, Hamilton, 82, looks back on her trailblazing work in computing in interview for The Guardian.