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The Computer for the Apollo Program Used Rope Memory Woven by Little Old Ladies

If you thought the fact that an iPhone was four times as powerful as the on-board computer of the Curiosity Rover was unbelievable, take a look at the meager tech the Apollo Program used to get into space. The computer was so pitiful that the software of the Apollo guidance computer was literally hand woven into its memory.

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The overall memory of the Apollo Guidance Computer was equivalent to 72kb (in modern terms) and the software had to be woven into the core rope memory, women in factories put the software together by looping wires through a core and around a core to represent the 1's and 0's of computer programs. As you could imagine, the process was extremely slow, tedious and a nightmare to put together but still... space! These things were used to go to space! Unbelievable. [YouTube]

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I just finished reading "Failure is not an Option" by Gene Kranz, a lead Flight Controller during Mercury and Apollo. In fact, I finished it just a few days ago, and then last night watched the live coverage of the Curiosity landing. What was striking to me was how technology has changed space operations. The pinpoint accuracy and nearly complete automation of the Curiosity landing was a far cry from how they did things during Mercury and Apollo. Sequences were hand-entered into this "rope memory" computer by the astronauts and the moon landings were incredibly demanding with lots of rapid decision points, course adjustments, and gutsy improvisation. We have smart people at the helm these days, but the people that pulled off Apollo were hardened and confident decision-makers with balls of steel, the likes of which I don't think we will ever see again.