The guts of NASA’s pioneering Apollo computer were handwoven like a quilt
Fast Company is producing an exclusive series of 50 articles exploring the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Moon landing. This is part of that series, via FastCompany
The Apollo computer, like the lunar rover and the parachutes, was cutting-edge technology for the era, so much so that it, too, leaped ahead of the ability to manufacture it in an automated way.
The technology, tools, and materials required to fly to the Moon in the 1960s often stretched the limits of what was available, and once it was invented, actually manufacturing it for spaceflight often proved even harder. But here’s the thing: That didn’t slow anyone down. If the lunar rover wheels had to be woven by hand, so be it.
If the internals of the Apollo computer itself needed to be hand sewn, so be it.
And so, like the lunar rover wheels and the parachutes, the circuits and programs of the Apollo flight computers were also woven by hand, by women at a Raytheon factory in Waltham, Massachusetts. They sat at sophisticated looms, using long needles with wire attached to them instead of thread, carefully weaving the wiring that was the programming of the computers.
The software was, in fact, hardware.
It was an astonishing process that was tedious yet required absolute attention and precision. Every single 1 and 0 in the computer’s memory required a wire in exactly the right place. A single mis-wired strand meant the computer’s programs wouldn’t work properly—and might fail at some critical, potentially disastrous moment.
We are angry, frustrated, and in pain because of the violence and murder of Black people by the police because of racism. We are in the fight AGAINST RACISM. George Floyd was murdered, his life stolen. The Adafruit teams have specific actions we’ve done, are doing, and will do together as a company and culture. We are asking the Adafruit community to get involved and share what you are doing. The Adafruit teams will not settle for a hash tag, a Tweet, or an icon change. We will work on real change, and that requires real action and real work together. That is what we will do each day, each month, each year – we will hold ourselves accountable and publish our collective efforts, partnerships, activism, donations, openly and publicly. Our blog and social media platforms will be utilized in actionable ways. Join us and the anti-racist efforts working to end police brutality, reform the criminal justice system, and dismantle the many other forms of systemic racism at work in this country, read more @ adafruit.com/blacklivesmatter
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.