This weekend’s 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing reminded everyone of what one nation can accomplish if it has enough money, engineering ingenuity and people willing to strap themselves into a rocket bound for space.
Despite its impressive hardware, NASA’s computing power for the mission seems paltry by modern standards. The agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center relied on IBM System/360 Model 75 mainframes to maintain communications with Apollo 11, running programs no more than a few megabytes in size. Aboard Apollo 11 itself, the all-important Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) featured a stunning 64kb of memory. Your aging laptop is far more powerful, in other words, than what the United States used to place two people on a rock 238,900 miles away.
While it’s not easy to get to the moon, it’s a simple matter to download the Command Module and Lunar Module code, which the Virtual AGC and AGS Project adapted to run on an open-source AGC emulator. Both Google (for the 40th anniversary) and ibiblio offer the software. Even if you’re not interested in spaceflight, the files are worth checking out to see how far the definition of “high tech” has evolved over the past few decades.
Given the tight integration between this software and the Apollo 11 hardware, however, it’s inadvisable to use any of this code to power that homemade “moonshot” rocket you’ve been working on in the garage.
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