Hack the Moon: Elaine Denniston on Punch Cards (2019)

Elaine Denniston was one of many women working on computer programming for Apollo. From 1966 to 1968, she worked at the MIT Instrumentation Lab as a data keypuncher. With no opportunity for advancement at the Instrumentation Lab, Denniston left MIT in 1968 and enrolled in Radcliffe College. After graduating in 1973, she attended Boston University Law School, then went on to practice law in the private sector. Denniston retired in 2012.


Elaine Denniston describes her role as a Key Punch Operator at the MIT Instrumentation Lab during the Apollo moon missions:

My name is Elaine Denniston. While at the Instrumentation Lab, as Draper Lab was then known, I was the key punch operator whose responsibility included typing up the programs onto IBM cards so they could be put in the system — this obviously preceded direct punching into the computers...So that was my responsibility. And part of what I also did, just because I am who I am, I would be reading them along and I'd go back and say, hmm, I think this should have had a period or it should have had a right paren or something — something that was very easy to spot but maybe not so easy to remember to put in if you're writing along. So I used to do that, and it's like, oh yeah, that would've made the [undecipherable]. So, that's what I did, and I would go around to remind people, but basically, I was a key punch operator and runner, and that's what I did.

"Elaine Denniston: Data Keypuncher and 'Rope Mother,'" Hack the Moon
Transcription courtesy of MIT News Office

Timeline: 2010s
Career: EngineeringTechnology
Object: Audio
Collection: Critical Mass 1955-1968, Harvard, NASA, Rising Voices 1995-Present, Staff, Women