The Apollo Software Was Literally Woven By Hand

The Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s needed computers and software aboard its spacecraft to complete its missions. If you've ever seen the computers of that era -- devices that relied on rows upon rows of paper punchcards, or massive, heavy tape drives -- you can see why that wasn't exactly easy. The technology they needed would have to be lightweight enough to avoid weighing down the spacecraft and robust enough to avoid being destroyed by extreme temperatures or power failures. This is why they turned to core rope memory, a form of memory made by women in factories who literally hand-wove wires through tiny magnetic rings. (NASA engineers would sometimes refer to it as "LOL memory," or "Little Old Lady memory" for the often older women who worked in these manufacturing centers). All computer programs -- even today's -- are at their most basic a series of ones and zeros, also known as binary. The workers who wove core rope memory encoded ones by passing a wire through a ring and zeroes by passing the wire around it. Since they literally encoded each one and zero by hand, the manufacturing process was slow, tedious, and prone to error, but in the end, this woven memory is what helped humans finally reach the moon. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Punch cards and tape drives, popular forms of computer memory in the 1960s, were too heavy to fly to space and couldn't withstand the journey anyway. 01:11

  2. Core rope memory coded ones and zeros into magnets and wires woven on a specialized loom. 01:53

  3. To represent a one, a worker weaved a wire through a magnetic donut. To represent a zero, the wire was woven outside of it. 02:18

Written by Ashley Hamer July 19, 2016