The anniversary of the historic lunar landing has many talking about Apollo 11 again. There is no shortage of stories and anecdotes of the things that went right and those that could have gone wrong. But for the software engineers at Google, there was another figure working in the background to make the landing even possible. That was NASA’s Margaret Hamilton who is also considered one of the pioneers of the field of software engineering.
Hamilton led the team who developed the onboard flight software for the Apollo 11 and the other manned Apollo missions. Her influence, however, extended beyond NASA and she is credited to be one of the first persons to coin the term “software engineering.”
Google’s software engineers wanted to also pay tribute to Margaret in a big way, literally too. To do that, they repurposed one of the Ivanpah Solar Facilities to use its 107,000 mirrors to gather not sunlight but moonlight instead. They then moved the mirrors so that they would reflect that light and form a gigantic portrait of Hamilton for everyone to see.
The generated image, which looked like graphics from old CRTs in use during those days, would put New York’s Central Park to shame in terms of size. It would even dwarf the Eiffel tower if put in a corner. The lunar tribute is definitely the woman who helped steer the Apollo 11 into its historic moment, figuratively and literally.
Hamilton was credited for fighting for the many failsafes that would prove critical in the mission’s success. And at a time when software engineering as a field didn’t yet exist, her “what if” mindset helped create the test-driven software development process that many developers take for granted today.