Some new concepts are hard to describe and get complicated names, but sometimes new terms are created and they fit perfectly. I think that software engineering is one of them. Let’s find out who coined it!


As explained on the NASA website, it was Margaret Hamilton, pictured above. A mathematician and computer science pioneer, she worked on the Apollo team for many years. 


As the head of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, she was in charge of the Apollo Guidance Computer’s software used by the command module, and her work very likely prevented an abort of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Three minutes before the Lunar lander reached the Moon’s surface, the computer became overloaded with incoming data. She described it as follows in a letter to computer magazine Datamation: 

Due to an error in the checklist manual, the rendezvous radar switch was placed in the wrong position. This caused it to send erroneous signals to the computer. The result was that the computer was being asked to perform all of its normal functions for landing while receiving an extra load of spurious data which used up 15% of its time. The computer (or rather the software in it) was smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing. It then sent out an alarm, which meant to the astronaut, I’m overloaded with more tasks than I should be doing at this time and I’m going to keep only the more important tasks; i.e., the ones needed for landing … Actually, the computer was programmed to do more than recognize error conditions. A complete set of recovery programs was incorporated into the software. The software’s action, in this case, was to eliminate lower priority tasks and re-establish the more important ones … If the computer hadn’t recognized this problem and taken recovery action, I doubt if Apollo 11 would have been the successful moon landing it was.


Today, Margaret Hamilton is at 78 the CEO of a software company she founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called Hamilton Technologies.

Kudos to Margaret for an exceptional life and accomplishments!