When the Apollo missions were planned, the process of writing code began on large sheets of paper. A keypunch operator would create holes in paper cards, keying the codes into what were called punch cards. “Not too many people know what punch cards are anymore, but that’s how you programmed it,” says Paul Ceruzzi, a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, who has known Hamilton for the past two decades.#Profiles #History #ComputerHistory #Women #Nasa #Programming #Programmers #SoftwareEngineering #SpaceFlight #Rockets
The museum holds in its collections the Apollo Flight Guidance Computer Software Collection created by Hamilton. The archival material includes printout sheets, known as “the listings,” which show results of guidance equation calculations. When the computer’s output identified no problems, software engineers would “eyeball” the listings, verifying that no issues required attention.
Once everything looked good, the code was sent to a Raytheon factory, where mostly women—many of them former employees of New England textile mills—wove copper wires and magnetic cores into a long “rope” of wire. With coding written in ones and zeroes, the wire went through the tiny magnetic core when it represented a one, and it went around the core when it represented a zero. This ingenious process created a rope that carried software instructions. The women who did the work were known as LOL, Hamilton told Ceruzzi, not because they were funny; it was short for “little old ladies.” Hamilton was called “rope-mother.”
NASA honored Hamilton with the NASA Exceptional Space Act Award in 2003, acknowledging her contributions to software development and granting her the biggest financial prize that the agency had ever awarded to one person until that time—$37,200. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom, noting that “her example speaks of the American spirit of discovery that exists in every little girl and little boy who know that somehow to look beyond the heavens is to look deep within ourselves.”"