Before Thanksgiving, President Obama handed out the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civilians 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.” This year’s honorees included well-known names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Maya Lin, Lorne Michaels, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Vin Scully, Bruce Springsteen and a pair of computer scientists: Margaret H. Hamilton and Grace Hopper (who received the award posthumously).
About Hamilton, the White House said, “Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules. A mathematician and computer scientist who started her own software company, Hamilton contributed to concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling and priority displays, and human-in-the-loop decision capability, which set the foundation for modern, ultra-reliable software design and engineering.”
It also noted, “Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘the first lady of software,’ was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another. She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in the field of computer science.”