The Wonder Of The Apollo Guidance Computer

Apollo Guidance Computer image

Our musical lives revolve around computers these days in at least some capacity, and those computers can be directly connected with a computer that made history and helped change history – the Apollo spacecraft guidance computer. Of course you’ll be reading a lot about all-things-Apollo as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11‘s moon landing.

This fantastic article on New Atlas is a must read for aerospace and computer aficionados, but even if you’re just into the main tool behind your music creation you’ll most likely be interested as well. The article is very in-depth, but I’ll outline some of the parts that I found most fascinating.

  • The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC for short) was carried on both the Command Service Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module (LM) on 15 manned missions. These included 9 Moon flights, 6 lunar landings, 3 Skylab missions, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Mission in 1975. It had remarkably few breakdowns and most of those were traced back to human error.
  • It was the brains behind the first fly-by-wire system, the first digital flight computer, the first real miniature computer, and the first to use silicon Integrated Circuit chips. It weighed 70 pounds, was completely hardwired (it took 2,000 man-hours to build one), and used 30,000 electronic components!
  • It was also the first to use software (a term that hadn’t been invented yet). The software took 350 engineers the equivalent of 1,400 man-years to develop.
  • It had 72k of memory (72k – the smart bulb over your desk has more!), and a 1.024MHz clock. The memory used was something called “rope memory” and consisted of tiny rings of iron with wires running through them. They were “programmed” by ex-textile workers. It also had enough RAM memory for just 2,000 words.
  • This computer had almost the power of a Commodore 64 (if you can remember those), and it went to the moon and back, 9 times!
  • The AGC was designed not by NASA’s usual contractor, but by MIT, who had a long history with guidance systems. MIT was actually in over its head and almost couldn’t make it work on time.

If this piqued your interest, be sure to read the article because it’s filled with lots of graphics and illustrations that will make you appreciate your PC all the more.

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