As Apollo 11 sped silently on its way to landing the first men on the Moon, its safe arrival depended on the work of a long-haired maths student fresh out of college and a computer knitted together by a team of “little old ladies”.
Now, 40 years after Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, the work of these unsung heroes who designed and built the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) is back in the spotlight.
“I wasn’t so aware of the responsibility at the time - it sort of sunk in later,” said Don Eyles, a 23-year-old self-described “beatnik” who had just graduated from Boston University and was set the task of programming the software for the Moon landing.
“I don’t recall the risk and the responsibility and the fact that other people’s lives were to some extent in our hands.”
But if Mr Eyles embodied the young, can-do attitude of many of the 400,000 people who are estimated to have worked on the Apollo programme, the “little old ladies” epitomised a more cautious approach.
The team of ex-textile workers and watch-makers were employed by defence firm Raytheon to “weave” the software into the memory of the computer.
“The astronauts toured the production facilities and got people to realise that it was real and they were real,” explained Eldon Hall, designer of the AGC.
“The little old ladies said: ‘that could be my son so I am going to do my job as well as I can’.”
How a Couple of “old ladies” Knitted Apollo 11