Apollo Class A Data Punch Card

In Their Own Words: Dan Lickly on Rope Mothers

Engineer Dan Lickly
Elaine Denniston 2018

Dan Lickly worked in aerospace engineering and programming at Draper during many of the Apollo missions.

"I was the rope mother. The rope mother is the one that led the development and that was the one in charge of making sure everything came together. You are the final responsibility for whatever went in there and we were working on many things at the same time.

You program and you went in and punched it on a keypunch and it put a batch of cards and ran it through a card reader. They had to all integrate their cards and put them together and submit it on one big run overnight and they printed out these huge listings that were six inches thick. If there is a mistake in the cards or something happened the whole night’s run would be wasted. So you had to make sure they were done right. No little errors, no cards out of order, and so on.

Elaine Denniston was a young girl, maybe 23. She just completed high school and gotten married and her job was one of the people that go around and collect all the output make sure they got the cards from everyone on time so they could do it that night. And of course these prima donna programmers would be late, “I got to do this over,” “give me another half hour,” and so on and so on. She had to go around at night before she left and beat up on all these programmers to get their information, run it, make sure there were no errors in it, and then turn it in for the overnight run. Then they went in the card reader and then we'd run simulations the next day, see whether it's good or not. At the end of the whole process you put a rope memory out that flew on the craft."