To the Moon: IBM and Univac, Apollo 11’s integrators


What it is prefer to reside on the moon
Fifty years on from the Apollo 11 moon touchdown, I reside like as an astronaut on the lunar floor … right here on Earth. NASA has used this habitat, referred to as HI-SEAS, or Hawaii House Exploration Analog and Simulation, to arrange astronauts for all times on the moon or Mars. I strive consuming freeze-dried meals, use a composting rest room and discover the lunar floor on EVA or extravehicular exercise.

This text was initially written in 2009.

Sending males to the Moon was not nearly constructing gigantic Saturn V rockets and taking pictures them off into house.

Whereas it was the vital part of the general program, and the place a big portion of the cash for the moon missions was spent, the rocket would have had no nervous system and we might have had no help infrastructure for the Apollo if it wasn’t for the efforts of two massive techniques integration companies — Worldwide Enterprise Machines and UNIVAC — and the individuals who labored at these corporations in the course of the 1960s.


IBM’s Actual-Time Laptop Complicated in Houston (High) and NASA’s Fresnedillas DSTN station in Madrid, Spain, (Backside) one of many many Deep House Monitoring Community outposts utilizing UNIVAC techniques for pre-processing of telemetry downlink and command uplink information.

IBM as Ringmaster

Learn all components of the “To the Moon” collection by Jason Perlow

As a system integrator, IBM’s involvement within the Apollo program was intensive. It ran the gamut from being the seller and help contractor for ground-based mission management laptop techniques at NASA, in addition to having a relationship as a “Main” contractor within the manufacture of the Saturn V itself. No different vendor, Boeing included, touched just about facet of the Apollo program.

IBM’s involvement within the US House program dates again previous to the 1950s, the place a lot of early IBM laptop techniques have been used for missile trajectory and satellite tv for pc orbital calculations. Within the early 1960s, mannequin 7090 techniques have been utilized by NASA to do preliminary calculations to find out thrust and trajectory traits wanted to launch the Saturn V, even earlier than the rocket hit the drawing boards.

Throughout the Mercury challenge, which allowed NASA to show the preliminary manned spaceflight know-how later used on Gemini and Apollo, IBM techniques have been used to watch in real-time the telemetry information being acquired from John Glenn’s Friendship 7.

These techniques have been a precursor to the Actual-Time Laptop Complicated (RTCC) which was later constructed at NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Middle in Houston, Texas for the Apollo missions. It used redundant Mannequin 7094 mainframe techniques initially which have been then changed by twin System/360 Mannequin 75 computer systems. These have been the fashionable forerunners of in the present day’s zSeries techniques so far as their very fundamental techniques structure is anxious. (The IBM System z10 remains to be backward appropriate with software program written for the S/360, S/370, and the S/390 by way of machine virtualization and software program emulation.)

The IBM mainframes within the RTCC, because the acronym implies, monitored the telemetry information from each facet of an Apollo mission in real-time, so there was no lag in processing between downside willpower, if a situation arose, and fixing it.

Along with Mission Management help techniques, IBM additionally manufactured a number of important components of the Saturn V itself — the steering laptop and the Saturn Instrument Unit (SIU).

The steering laptop was used throughout pre-launch checkout and was able to launch simulation, and did the entire booster steering in the course of the rocket’s ascent part, calculating trajectory 25 occasions a second and adjusting the management surfaces on the gimballed rocket engines to maintain the Saturn V on target to orbit.

The steering laptop was additionally used to ignite the engine on the S-IVB third stage to insert and information the spacecraft into Trans Lunar Injection (TLI).

The ring-shaped Saturn Instrument Unit, manufactured underneath contract by IBM, had 57 parts and weighed four,400 kilos. The 21-foot broad SIU, which was mounted above the S-IVB third stage and sat between the Command Module/Service Module spacecraft, was the brains and nerve heart of the Saturn V. It offered all the main steering features in addition to the entire sensors and instrumentation packages wanted by the rocket.

After Trans-Lunar injection, navigational management was handed off to the Apollo Steerage Laptop (AGC) within the Command Module, which was an embedded techniques laptop designed by MIT’s Draper Laboratories. A second AGC was additionally put in within the Lunar Module.

IBM’s legacy within the House Program lives on in not simply its continued involvement in NASA’s present and future efforts with its laptop techniques and help companies, but in addition in a number of the software program that was constructed for the Apollo program.

The IMS suite of hierarchical database administration purposes, which remains to be an necessary a part of IBM’s mainframe software program portfolio, was initially designed by IBM along side Rockwell and Caterpillar in order that the large Invoice of Supplies (BOM) for the Saturn V, composed of a whole bunch of 1000’s of components, may very well be inventoried and managed.

UNIVAC, Operating Apollo’s Communications Community at Goddard and Past

Whereas IBM’s mainframes have been on the core of Mission Management, IBM was not the one laptop firm with a vital position in Apollo’s mission. Whereas the corporate now not exists in the present day in its unique recognizable type and few folks of my technology would even be conversant in the trademark, UNIVAC was a family identify for computer systems in the course of the 1960s, very similar to Dell, Apple or Hewlett-Packard is in the present day.

UNIVAC, initially began because the Eckert-Mauchly Laptop Company, was the descendant of the namesake founders’ works on the ENIAC, the primary stored-program digital laptop which went on-line in 1947.

In 1952, a UNIVAC I laptop made historical past by efficiently predicting the result of the presidential election, reside on nationwide tv with legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite studying the outcomes. This feat introduced the corporate into the limelight and secured its future over the following 20 years as a pacesetter in enterprise laptop techniques, in addition to a producer of laptop techniques for the navy and authorities.

Whereas IBM’s techniques have been on the core of the Actual-Time Computing Complicated in Houston, extra than simply that single datacenter was required in an effort to course of and ship telemetry information to and from the Apollo spacecraft.

Earlier Mercury and Gemini have been each near-Earth-orbit missions and used C-Band communications (amongst others) for his or her main communications. Communications adjustments have been wanted for extra distant missions.

A community of radio monitoring and transmitter stations, often called the Deep House Monitoring Community, or DSTN, was constructed in an effort to present sign processing of incoming telemetry and outgoing command features over Unified S-Band radio (USB) and to keep up fixed communication with the Apollo house car on its option to and from the Moon.

Quite a few smaller USB Apollo floor stations had a 30-foot antenna for transmitting to and from the spacecraft whereas it was comparatively near the Earth. For deep house, three massive stations which have been comparatively equidistant from one another needed to be constructed, in Goldstone California, in Fresnedillas, Spain and in Honeysuckle Creek, Australia.

Every of the three DSTN stations was composed of giant 85-foot broad movable radio dishes, radio sign decoding tools in addition to a pc room which contained UNIVAC 1230 techniques that processed a steady 48kbps information stream from the Apollo spacecraft utilizing its onboard S-band radio transmitter on the Command and Lunar modules. Every of these spacecraft modules had the flexibility to demodulate (and re-modulate) data for transmission again to Earth.

Every pulse code modulated information stream acquired and despatched by every DSTN station needed to be scrubbed, reformatted, pre-processed, and despatched backwards and forwards to NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Maryland by way of the NASCOM communications community by way of industrial UNIVAC 494 and 495 techniques earlier than sending it to Mission Management (MCC-H), the Command Communication and Telemetry System (CCATS) and the IBM Actual-Time Laptop Complicated (RTCC), which might solely course of information at a a lot slower 2Kbps.


Phil Ross (proven left within the blue golf shirt) was Part Head for Telemetry Packages for UNIVAC on the Goddard Flight Middle in the course of the Apollo missions. Hearken to a Podcast with Jason Perlow and Phil Ross, former UNIVAC Apollo Telemetry Part Head

By 1966, UNIVAC, now a division of Sperry’s Remington Rand protection contracting subsidiary, had an excessive amount of expertise putting in hardened navy variations of the 1230 laptop on naval vessels, which have been often called the 642A/642B variants, and have been initially used for missile hearth management processing.

Accompanying gallery content material for “To the moon”

In comparison with the IBM mainframes they have been a lot smaller — refrigerator-sized — and will additionally tolerate harsher circumstances than their industrial UNIVAC or IBM counterparts, working in as much as 140 levels F and have been conditioned in opposition to saltwater corrosion.

In 1966, NASA shortly introduced UNIVAC’s programmers and its computer systems in to run the information processing for telemetry and command information streams for the DSTN and CCATS. By the point of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, at the very least three dozen 642B variants of UNIVAC 1230s have been employed at DSTN stations across the globe, together with as distant as Australia, Spain, and California.

The UNIVAC legacy as UNISYS

By the late 1970s, Sperry ended the UNIVAC model identify, and in 1986 acquired one other smaller laptop producer, Burroughs, to type UNISYS.

Whereas UNISYS nonetheless does an excessive amount of contracting with the USA authorities and NASA, like IBM, a lot of its income stream is now extremely services-focused, concentrating on enterprise transformation and outsourcing. However its position because the brains on the core of NASA’s communications community won’t ever be forgotten.

Had been you an IBM or UNIVAC worker in the course of the Apollo period? Speak Again and Let Me Know.