“Burn, Baby, BURN!” How Did a Radio DJ’s On-Air Patter Make Into the Computer Code for Apollo 11?

Your mobile phone has a million times the computer power of the machinery that took Apollo spacecraft to the moon. Given the limitations of the hardware and processing capability of the gear NASA had, the code that those computers needed to be extremely compact and efficient. But that didn’t mean coders couldn’t have a little fun.

Quartz takes a look at the contents of the Apollo Guidance Code (AGC) that took man to the moon. Turns out that a radio DJ was part of the mission.

[F]ormer NASA intern Chris Garry uploaded the software in its entirety to GitHub, the code-sharing site where millions of programmers hang out these days.

Within hours, coders began dissecting the software, particularly looking at the code comments the AGC’s original programmers had written. In programming, comments are plain-English descriptions of what task is being performed at a given point. But as the always-sharp joke detectives in Reddit’s r/ProgrammerHumor section found, many of the comments in the AGC code go beyond boring explanations of the software itself. They’re full of light-hearted jokes and messages, and very 1960s references.

One of the source code files, for example, is called BURN_BABY_BURN--MASTER_IGNITION_ROUTINE, and the opening comments explain why:

Nasa Apollo Code copy

The full story is wonderfully nerdy. Read it all here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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