During the next few days he won’t be really seen a lot and nevertheless, earth closest neighbor and companion will play a major role. Tomorrow the moon will obscure the sunlight in some regions here on earth, resulting in a spectacular solar eclipse. It will be perhaps the first time that I’m sorry that I’m not a Chinese or Indian citizen - I’d have a place in the first row for the spectacle. Unfortunately I’ll miss the show this time around.
And today exactly forty years ago - the Americans showed to the whole world what a great nation they are and landed with the help of thousands of dedicated technicians, scientists, researchers, planers, strategists and lots of tax paying people the first human being on the moon. I’m always amazed about this incredible achievement, not yet repeated by any other nation. It’s even more amazing to me when seeing films and photographs of all those clunky computers, nobs and buttons put on show in the control centers, commando and lunar modules.
I grew up with the knowledge that man can reach the moon - it’s nothing of the unimaginable as it was for the generation before. I still remember the huge illustrative album of my father which I barely could lift as a small boy - looking at those pictures of the Saturn V rocket, how Neil Armstrong went down the ladder from the “Eagle” and that footprint in the moon-sand. Myself a bit older today, I really wonder sometimes how they were able to do that.
Specially interesting for me are obviously the capabilities of the computers used 40 years ago. The on-board Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was about 1 cubic foot with 2K of 16-bit RAM and 36K of hard-wired core-rope memory with copper wires. The AGC was controlled by a 2.048 MHz crystal clock (that’s not 2GHz, that’s 2 MHz). The computer units user interface is viewable at the center of the “Eagle” cockpit to the right.
An IBM Mainframe 360 Model 75 was used at Nasa’s Spacecraft Center in Houston. This computer was used to calculate lift-off data required to launch the Lunar Module off the Moon’s surface and enable it to rendezvous with Command Module for the flight back to Earth.
At the time, IBM described the 6Mbyte programs it developed, to monitor the spacecrafts’ environmental and astronauts’ biomedical data, as the most complex software ever written.
Every resource of what machine, technology and human could potentially produce was used (up) in an incredible show of effectiveness. It’s a fantastic way to remember that excellence starts with a strong will for achievement and success, cooperation between human beings and by making research and the use of technology a tool to our advantage. The man in the moon became reality despite the physical extremes of distance, temperature and gravity.