In the Apollo 11 LEM source code, in the Burn Baby Burn master ignition routine, one of the most emphasized comment is a French citation, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE.

According to wikipedia, this locution is

is a maxim in the Anglo-Norman language, a dialect of Old Norman French spoken by the medieval ruling class in England, meaning "shamed be whoever thinks ill of it" […]

Note that the same Wikipedia article acknowledge the presence of that locution in the Apollo source code, but only provides sources, not explanations.

(also, the same locution with two n to Honni, also valid in French, is the French title of an American movie)

Why was such a locution placed there? Is their any evidence of why that comment was written and placed there?

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Margaret Hamilton might know it. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Feb 1, 2022 at 18:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have no references, but I would imagine that this comment (along with the one that follows, "NOLI SE TANGERE" -- "don't touch this") is a message to the rest of the team implying something like "don't criticize or change this code, it was extremely difficult to create"... $\endgroup$
    – kgutwin
    Feb 1, 2022 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Mentioned here softwareheritage.org/2019/07/20/… $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2022 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ There seems a typo, it should read NOLI ME TANGERE $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Feb 1, 2022 at 18:27
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ More of an aside than an answer: Comments such as those would be viewed as highly unprofessional nowadays. Sea slugs (aka bottom dwelling lawyers) have trained organizations to train their programmers not to write cutesy comments. Said sea slugs pore over current and old versions of the code, commit messages, etc. Cutesy code, code comments, commit messages, etc. have resulted in the sued organization ending up losing the lawsuit. $\endgroup$ Feb 2, 2022 at 16:22

1 Answer 1


And another story behind the software: https://www.heidi.news/sciences-climat/the-programmer-behind-the-moon-mission-revelations-of-the-apollo-11-software

«Honi soit qui mal y pense.» These are the words that precede the ignition routine of the Apollo 11 mission. And they reflect the struggle for recognition that Hamilton's team was experiencing at the beginning of the project. While the role of engineers was clear, there is not even a budget for the software department initially.

  • $\begingroup$ I fail to see the link between a french locution literally saying «shame on anyone who thinks evil of it» and the struggle for recognition of Hamilton's team. Do i miss something ? $\endgroup$
    – aluriak
    Feb 4, 2022 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @aluriak What you have missed is the discrepancy between some initial estimate that says (for example) that some particular chunk of flight software will take two people two weeks to build, but in the end it takes a much bigger team working hard for over a month to build that chunk of flight software. Six decades later, estimators still get their estimates wrong, sometimes by quite a bit. The grief often falls on the programmers for taking to long as opposed to falling on the planners for not foreseeing all the things that can go bump in the night. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2022 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Over the course of my career I have worked on many aspects of flight software planning, design, development, testing, and deployment. My stints at doing estimation always resulted in estimates that were off somewhere. On average, I did okay (good enough to help win contracts, some of them firm fixed price, and to keep my job after we won the contract), but there were always some aspects where my estimates were ridiculously high and others where they were ridiculously low. I have also worked on development. The initial estimates are always wrong somewhere. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2022 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ The spacecraft industry is starting to move toward Agile, but (a) this is just a start, and (b) being completely Agile is not possible. With video game or business software development, one can simply decide not to implement a particular chunk of software that turns out to be much more difficult than originally perceived. A manager cannot decide to eliminate implementation of the ignition sequence software for a launch vehicle. The minute or so around liftoff is incredibly complex, is where multiple spacecraft have died, and the software behind it is absolutely essential. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2022 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Coming from the software industry, i understand well everything you are telling me. However, (maybe because i'm french, not english) i still don't understand. Maybe my question would be best put as this : who are the persons targeted shame-called by the citation ? On what grounds ? Now that i think of it, is it the people that have decided the (absence of) budget, because Hamilton's team expected them to be critical and negative about their production despite the energy the team put in it ? $\endgroup$
    – aluriak
    Feb 7, 2022 at 22:28

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