29 Sep '17, 6pm

Software as Hardware: Apollo's Rope Memory - IEEE Spectrum

Software as Hardware: Apollo's Rope Memory - IEEE Spectrum

Photo: Mark Richards/Computer History Museum A prototype of the rope memory used in the Apollo Guidance Computer. Alan Kay, the pioneering computer scientist, has observed that “hardware is really just software crystallized early.” The rope memory device shown here, a prototype created in 1963 by Burroughs Corp. [PDF], makes Kay’s point. In rope memory, bits of information are represented by threads of wire and tiny doughnut-shaped magnetic cores. A core with wire threaded through the center represents a 1; an empty core represents a 0. In this way, the pattern of wires can form a computer program—software crystallized as hardware, in other words. This prototype was used to evaluate the technology for the Apollo missions to the moon. During the missions themselves, rope memory served as the Apollo Guidance Computer’s “fixed memory,” containing the navigation and guidance s...

Full article: https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/space-age/software...

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