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Jokes Found in Moon Mission Software

Paul Rubens - July 12, 2016 - 11:00 AM
Jokes Found in Moon Mission Software
Jokes, pop culture references, and Shakespeare quotations have been found in Apollo 11's control software.

(CCM) — The software that powered the Apollo 11 mission to the moon is full of jokes and pop culture references, programmers around the world discovered over the weekend. The source code for the Apollo 11 Guidance Computers (AGCs) in the command and lunar modules was recently uploaded to code-sharing site GitHub by former-NASA intern Chris Garry. The master ignition routine, called "BURN_BABY_BURN," includes an explanation in the program that this is a reference to a popular disk jockey at the time called Magnificent Montague. Another part of the code, called "PINBALL_GAME_BUTTONS_AND LIGHTS," includes three lines from Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 2. (This is not the first time that Shakespeare's work has been discovered in a computer program — lines from Hamlet have also been found in the source code to early versions of Microsoft's Word.) Elsewhere in the code, one of the programmers wrote "HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE," which is the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter and which means "shame on whosoever would think badly of it." This was possibly included in the hope that other programmers would not criticize the software.

The AGCs helped land 12 astronauts on the moon, but despite weighing 70 lbs, they were less sophisticated than modern toasters. Each one had just 64 KB of memory in total and operated at a clock speed of 0.04 MHz. By comparison, modern smartphones have up to 64 million KB of memory and run at about 2000 MHz.

Photo: © Neil Armstrong NASA Apollo Archive - Wikimedia.
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