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Women of the Apollo program

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posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 02:36 AM
Came across this interesting article about a woman involved in the Apollo program:
Margaret Hamilton, lead software engineer, Project Apollo

This is a great photo I just ran across on the internets. It said it was “Margaret Hamilton, Apollo program”, but it didn’t say who Margaret Hamilton was.

Margaret Hamilton was the lead software engineer for Project Apollo.

It had long been tradition that operating calculating machines was “women’s work”; it was thought to be just keypunching, like typing. Women programmed and operated the punchcard machines to produce calculations for the Manhattan Project. Despite the tendency of the project physicists to minimize their contribution, this was demanding work, much more than just moving cards from slot to slot — they were usually given requirements from the tech people, but often designed the approach and set up the calculations themselves.

The bias that “women do the mere programming” extended into the early days of the computer, and it meant that many of the earliest and most pioneering programmers were women, learning hands-on to do things that had never been done before. We all know about Amazing Grace Hopper, who wrote the first compiler.

Margaret Hamilton earned her BA in math from Earlham College, but obviously learned about programming on the job—there was no other way. In the photo above, she is standing in front of the printouts of the code for the Apollo guidance system, a lot of which she wrote and which she oversaw.

She was all of 31 when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon, running her code. (Apollo 11 was able to land at all only because she designed the software robustly enough to handle buffer overflows and cycle-stealing.)

She’s now a tech CEO and won the ‘86 Lovelace Award and the NASA Exceptional Space Act Award.

The engineers weren’t all boys with crewcuts, short sleeve oxford shirts, and narrow black ties. That’s just a fairy tale they told for a while.

Something to remember. I suppose today’s kids are ho-hum about these recoveries of memory, but I think they’re pretty neat.

One example of the value of Hamilton's software work occurred during the Apollo 11 mission. Approximately three minutes before Eagle's touchdown on the moon, the software over rode a command to switch the flight computer's priority processing to a radar system whose 'on' switch had been manually activated due to a faulty written operations script provided to the crew. The action by the software permitted the mission to safely continue. -

More info about her and her contribution to the Apollo -

This is interesting, I hope you agree. To me, the Apollo program is like an archeology site that keeps on giving; interesting details come up every now and again that I had never heard of before.
edit on 9-12-2014 by wildespace because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 02:45 AM
Thanks for that. The other week there was a play on Radio 4 that was a pretty good potted history of women in space.

Right stuff, wrong sex

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 03:26 AM
a reply to: wildespace

Ms. Hamilton was interviewed for "Moon Machines". If you haven't seen this wonderful series, it's terrific. Rather than interviewing the astronauts & flight controllers for the umpteenth time, this series interviews the engineers & technicians that designed and built Apollo. It was made for the Science Channel, and is available from Amazon. I think I got my copy at Fry's.

There are 6 episodes, each covering the development of a specific program element:
The Saturn V
The Apollo Guidance Computer (in which Ms. Hamilton appears)
The Apollo Command/Service Module
The Apollo Lunar Module
The Apollo Space Suit
The Lunar Rover

Back to the thread topic, the episode about the space suits interviewed some of the women who assembled the first suits at Singer.

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 04:33 AM
a reply to: Saint Exupery

They are on YouTube here:
YouTube - Moon Machines

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 04:50 AM
a reply to: wildespace

The "bombs" that were used to break the German Ultra cipher at Bletchley Park were also operated by women. Apparently, in those days men built machines and women used them.

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 05:00 AM
a reply to: CraftBuilder
Thanks for sharing, here's the part of the video (from around 20 min mark) relevant to this thread:


[Edit] Core Rope memory! That is one of the most incredible things I ever heard about early computation technologies.
edit on 9-12-2014 by wildespace because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 06:22 AM
a reply to: wildespace

Core Rope memory! That is one of the most incredible things I ever heard about early computation technologies.

I love the expression on people's faces when I casually mention that in the Apollo spacecraft the memory was, of course, woven....

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 08:29 AM
Here is the episode from the series "Moon Machines" (as mentioned by St. Exupery) on the Apollo spacesuit.

The whole episode (and series) is very worthwhile viewing, but zoom ahead to the 13:00 mark in the video below for a segment about the women who sewed the spacesuits together.

The spacesuit itself was made by ILC -- or the International Latex Corporation. ILC had experience in making pressure suits for Air Force fighter pilots and other aviation uses. One of ILC's companies is Playtex, the company that makes latex underwear for women, such as bras and girdles (girdles were still relatively popular at the time).

The women who worked for ILC sewing together women's undergarments had the most experience in working with latex fabric, so some of those most experienced bra and girdle-making women were brought over to the division of ILC that was making the Apollo spacesuits to sew the suits together.

[Go to the 13:00 mark]

edit on 12/9/2014 by Soylent Green Is People because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 12:35 PM
Sara Howard - Saturn V engineer

posted on Dec, 9 2014 @ 12:58 PM

originally posted by: onebigmonkey
Sara Howard - Saturn V engineer

As a side note brought up by Sara Howard in your link, NASA itself really didn't build much of the hardware that went to the Moon -- it was built mostly by private contractors, such as Boeing, Grumman, North American, Douglas, and General Motors. All NASA did was mainly manage the contracts of these contractors.

Sara Howard: First of all, I didn’t work for NASA. There were close to 400,000 of us who did not work for NASA. Back in the 1960’s NASA was a teeny pipsqueak. They had to hire 23,000 contractors of which there were four main ones: Boeing, North American Aviation, McDonnell Douglas and IBM. The contractors won bids from NASA so maybe they did work for NASA. In the three years I worked for Boeing I never saw any NASA person. The contractors hired the 400,000 of us. Our paychecks came from the contractors.

Many people may not fully realize that the Apollo hardware was designed and built by private companies, and not by NASA themselves.

The Saturn V, for example, was designed and built by three companies; The First stage was built by Boeing, the second stage by North American Aviation, and the third stage was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. The Command Module was built by North American, the Lunar Module was built by Grumman, and the Lunar Rover was built by General Motors and Boeing. The engines for each stage of the Saturn V was made by Rocketdyne Corporation. The engine for the Command Module/Service Module was made by Aerojet-General. The engines for the Lunar Module were made by Bell Aerospace (ascent engine) and TRW (descent engine). NASA received all of the various stages (with engines installed) and other parts from each contractor, then stacked the pieces together in their huge vehicle assembly building.

The computers and navigation software was made by MIT, the spacesuits were made by International Latex Corporation (ILC), and the life support backpacks were made by Hamilton Standard.

And that list of private contractors brings me back to the topic of this thread:

It wouldn't surprise me if there were other women in important roles among all of those private contractors (and I just mentioned the main contractors, not all of them) who were designing and building the Apollo spacecraft and the ancillary components that got us to the Moon.

Sara Howard of Boeing, Margaret Hamilton of MIT, and the skilled seamstresses at ILC who did the meticulous-yet-vital sewing work on the spacesuits are probably just a few.

edit on 12/9/2014 by Soylent Green Is People because: (no reason given)

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