Friday, November 25, 2016
Patriarchy In Space
Just catching up on this week's news:
President Obama awarded his last Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest US honor given to a civilian — in a packed ceremony on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. Margaret Hamilton, the woman behind the onboard flight software for NASA Apollo lunar modules and command modules, was among the 21 recipients.
Hamilton, who invented the term “software engineer,” began her career as a computer programmer at MIT in the 1960s. In August 1961, NASA issued a contract to MIT to design the spacecraft’s guidance and navigational system. Hamilton presided over the in-flight software group, which included overseeing the alarm system that would give a warning when the computer was overloaded, but at the same time allowed it to switch its focus to critical tasks and stop doing non-critical tasks.
This alarm system proved to be crucial in the moments leading up to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s Moon landing when it rang due to a faulty radar. But it allowed Aldrin and Armstrong to continue with the landing as the computer informed the crew that it was shedding its less-important functions to focus on steering the engine during the spacecraft’s descent.
During the award ceremony, Obama said Hamilton represents “that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space.”
Unsung is an understatement. In popular culture and history about the Apollo program, women are relegated to the Wives, some nurses...men are the heroes. And I admit I didn't even realize that until recently.