The secrets of the Apollo 11 computer are now accessible to everyone

The source codes of the program that allowed Apollo 11 to land on the Moon have been published on GitHub: here's how to download them

Your smartphone is much more powerful than the computer that, on July 20, 1969, sent man to the Moon thanks to the Apollo 11 mission. To get to the moon, in fact, at that time only 150 kb of memory (between RAM and ROM) were needed. The source code containing the computer instructions that allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to arrive safely on our satellite (and return home) are available on GitHub, a platform for sharing source code programs.

They are, to be precise, the "programs" that ran on the "Apollo Guidance Computer" (AGC), a box 32 cm wide, 17 high and 61 deep that contained a great innovation for the time: 2,800 integrated circuits. There were two AGCs: one on board the orbiting command module and the other on board the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) that physically landed on the Moon with Armstrong and Aldrin on board. Both computers ran the same software, written in a specific machine language called AGC Assembly Language.

The Apollo 11 codeĀ 

This code, written in a language that is difficult for even the best software programmers to understand today, is also part of the history and the enterprise. The AGC Assembly Language is also behind that small step for man that became a big step for mankind. That's why the AGC code has been published online, for future reference. Inside there are also some humorous hints: the code line 666, for example, points to a "mysterious number" while in other parts you can read references to songs of the time such as "Burn, baby, burn", 1966 anti-war song written by Jimmy Collier and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick.

It was a woman who took us to the moon

The code that guided Apollo 11 was written by the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumental Laboratory, which at the time was headed by Margaret Heafield Hamilton. Hamilton joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960 with a temporary assignment to develop software for weather forecasting. Shortly thereafter, she made her mark and, after rigorous selection, was put in charge of the team of engineers who developed the AGC code. In addition to the photos and movies of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, for this reason, rightly enters in the history of human progress also the photo of Margaret Hamilton standing holding a stack of folders of paper as high as her. What did those folders contain? All the source code for the Apollo Guidance Computer.