Tuesday, November 25, 2014

James Marchand asks for info about the naming of Apollo Guidance Computer programs, and whether there's any connection to the name "Colossus" given to Tommy Flowers's code-busting computer at Bletchley Park in WW2. As these questions seem to be of general interest, I'll answer here.

All the names of AGC programs were made up by the engineers at MIT's Instrumentation Lab, where the control theory analysts did as much of the assembly-level programming as they could, augmented by some software contractor personnel. Before it was clear that we'd be programming two computers, one in each spacecraft, the names derived from ancient mythology, in which Apollo's "day job" was driving a phaeton containing the sun across the sky--hence, such names as ECLIPSE, SUNRISE, SUNSPOT and SUNDANCE. Once we had two parallel computer projects to do, we made up names with initial letters matching that of the spacecraft module they belonged to: COLOSSUS for the Command Module, and LUMINARY for the Lunar Module.

We knew nothing of Bletchley Park and Ultra then. The Colossus created by Tommy Flowers was named by his colleagues, in recognition of its being one big mutha hunkin machine. As I mention in my forthcoming Left Brains for the Right Stuff book, the second Colossus did a lot to save D-Day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

My website is once again able to send me contact information from the contact page. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Now that version 2.0 (as it were) of my book is in developmental editing and looking a lot better than version 1.0, I'm resuming this blog and posting my promotional card for it:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

After absorbing the developmental edit, I have to make this into two books, or two volumes of one book. The first, a first-person history of computer science, rocket science, and my corner of MIT, is now titled Left Brains for the Right Stuff: Computer & Rocket Science at MIT. It is intended for general audiences who are curious about how computers and rockets learned to work together to produce Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Not sure what to call the second part, maybe just Technical Edition, and I'll expect it to get more play as an e-book.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

In which the old dog seeks to teach himself new tricks, of which today's achievements are (1) putting up my standard profile photo on Blogger to match my Facebook page and Website, and (2) figuring out how to add a new post.  This would all go a lot faster if I had grandchildren in-house or nearly so, rather than 1000 miles away.  It's all about becoming a citizen of Cyberville, so the next trick is to make fellow citizens aware of what I'm saying here, which I promise will become more interesting -- but enough for tonight.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Here beginneth a new blog.  My apologies to all the other MIT rocket scientists who are equally qualified to have a blog so named, but I needed it.  Please forgive the substandard update tempo -- just getting warmed up here.

My identity here is a brand, created initially for my forthcoming book, The Coolest Thing that Has Ever Been Done: Confessions of an MIT Rocket Scientist. It's in the indie-publishing pipeline, now undergoing developmental editing, and with luck will be out in the fall.  The "coolest thing" is primarily Apollo, secondarily the Space Shuttle, broadly the whole business of traveling to other worlds.  This book is a nonfiction account, which I characterize as "the most entertaining and insightful techno-memoir of its time," of the MIT Instrumentation Lab people as I knew them in 1959-1981, and enough autobiography to describe where we came from, what became of us afterwards, and even an answer to "what do you do for an encore?"  I may re-use the brand for a second book.  For more details, visit www.MITRocketScientist.com.