Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apollo 40th Aniversary and Ultimate Geekdome

July 16th, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the lift-off of Apollo 11 on it's 280,000 mile journey to land two humans on the moon. (No, they didn't have a rover on that one, but its a cool picture.) I would have been three years old, and the footage shown on TV in black and white. The original images, in the form of a special digital format transmitted back to earth, were apparently were lost when a shortage of magnetic tape and a plethora of data from new satellites forced NASA to start recycling (hey, save the earth!).

To atone for loosing priceless historical source material, they have been gathering the best of what was recorded on earth for TV and are letting the digital magic people restore it. You can see some of their work at I'm sure the conspiracy people will have a field day with that.

In the most geeky demonstration of geekiness, a 54 year old uber-geek researched and built a working replica of the Apollo Guidance Computer. I can't express how geeky this is. He spent four years and $3000. He obtained every possible source document on the system. He corresponded with the original engineers. Parts of the original source code that were missing were rewritten and tested using the original specifications. He built and tested both the hardware and software! Give this guy some Federal Stimulus money and he could be on his way to the moon again.

And to think, I was just happy to play the arcade version of Lunar Lander (try it!). In reading an interview of David Scott, the astronaut who helped with the computer development for Apollo at MIT, I found some interesting computer trivia.
It was very simple for us to operate (the computer) with a series of two-digit numbers representing verbs and another series of two-digit numbers representing nouns. It was so simple and straightforward that even pilots could learn how to use it. We had some interesting words. Our initialization program was "00" (zero-zero). We abbreviated the identification program with a "P". If you ever had a problem you went back to 00, which we ultimately called "P00". So, if you ever had a problem, you went to Poo, and reinitialized.
More seriously, he also reported that the "lifeboat" procedure using the Lunar Module that saved the astronauts during the Apollo 13 accident had actually been conceived prior to, and tested during his Apollo 9 flight.

If this geekiness hasn't creeped you out, and the Lunar Lander game seems too tame, you can download a simulator, and experience POOhing yourself!

Check out the simulation video, complete with authentic Apollo audio. You can spot the guidance computer display several times.

O.K., I think I just geeked myself out . . .

1 comment:

Eldon and Janeil Olsen said...

EVERY family needs a geek or two.

Love you, Mom