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Paoli Native Earns Presidential Medal Of Freedom
Updated November 28, 2016 7:25 AM
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(PAOLI) - A Paoli native caught the attention of Southern Indiana residents who tuned in this week to the presentation of Presidential Medal of Freedom awards at the White House.

Included in the list of recipients was Margaret Hamilton, who was recognized for playing a crucial role in American computer science in the 20th century. Specifically, Hamilton was honored for work related to space exploration.

Hamilton was born in Paoli on August 17, 1936, to Kenneth and Ruth Heafield. Little is known about Hamilton locally because it is believed that the family left Paoli when she was a child.

As someone who grew up in Paoli, Dan Uyesugi remembers hearing Hamilton's name. Uyesugi is the son of former Paoli High School teacher Ruth Uyesugi, who, like Hamilton, graduated from Earlham College in Richmond. But Hamilton's time at Earlham was well over a decade after Ruth Uyesugi's time there.

Dan Uyesugi said he remembered talking to his mother about Hamilton when Ruth Uyesugi was working on a project to identify famous people who had been born in Paoli and possibly had graduated from Paoli High School. But, he said they found out Hamilton had graduated from high school elsewhere. Wikipedia reports Hamilton graduated from Hancock High School in 1954, but doesn't say in which state the high school was located.

Wikipedia reports Hamilton began studying mathematics at the University of Michigan, but she later transferred to Earlham College to earn her bachelor's degree in mathematics with a minor in philosophy in 1958.

A White House press release this week reports that Hamilton "led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules."

A NASA press release in 2003 sheds further light on Hamilton's career.

The release reported on Hamilton, as the leader of the Apollo flight software team, having been granted a NASA Exceptional Space Act Award for her scientific and technical contributions.

The release quotes NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, who said, "The Apollo flight software Ms. Hamilton and her team developed was truly a pioneering effort. The concepts she and her team created became the building blocks for modern 'software engineering.'"

Dr. Paul Curto, senior technologist for NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board, nominated Hamilton for the award. Curto said, "I was surprised to discover she was never formally recognized for her groundbreaking work. Her concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling, end-to-end testing and man-in-the-loop decision capability, such as priority displays, became the foundation for ultra-reliable software design."

One example of the value of Hamilton's software work occurred during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 when man first walked on the moon. The NASA release reads, "Approximately three minutes before Eagle's touchdown on the moon, the software overrode 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."

Hamilton joined 20 other luminaries Tuesday in receiving Medal of Freedom recognition from President Barack Obama. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Obama said, "The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor; it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists and public servants to activists, athletes and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way."

Joining Hamilton as recipients were: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elouise Cobell (posthumous), Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Richard Garwin, Bill and Melinda Gates, Frank Gehry, Tom Hanks, Grace Hopper (posthumous), Michael Jordan, Maya Link, Lorne Michaels, Newt Minow, Eduardo PadrĂ³n, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Vin Scully, Bruce Springsteen and Cicely Tyson.

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