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Apollo Computer

It's amazing we made it to space at all! Wow, how far we've come...

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Synthiam
#1  
I think it was programmed in machine language to boot.... These guys were the "real" rocket scientists... They needed more erasable memory or more processing power, though... On the Apollo 11 Lunar lander's decent to the moon the computer threw a 1201 and 1202 alarm. This indicated the computer was overloaded... The computer was supposed to land the LEM but as we know Neil Armstrong had to take control due to the fact the computer was trying to land in what looked like a boulder field...
#2  
Bet they wished they had an EZB....LOL
#3  
It is hard to believe we have more computer power in our phone then they had, to be able to fly from earth to the moon, land , and return safely. This technology has given so much to our every day life.

Ron R
#4  
In our home? A hand held calculator has more computing power than the Apollo guidance computer had... An arduino could have been used to do the entire mission... An EZB would have been a serious overkill....:D
#5  
Wow, wonderfully complex. The human mind is an amazing thing to come up with a system like the primitive computer. Amazing layer upon layer of complex processing needed, both in the building process of these "breadboard" type circuits and the way they worked. So many people building the different computer components, doing different simple processes in complex patterns assisted by other computers. I was amazed by the way the ladies were "sowing" the memory matrix thread by hand with needles and assisted by paper reel to reel tape to showing the proper hole to pass through. And how about the old paper, hole punched IBM cards telling the manufacturing computer and people the proper moves to make?

This kinda blows up the theory that we got our computer knowledge from a crashed Area 51 alien spaceship. No way an advanced spaceship traveling from across the galaxy came here with that technology. The way we built computer circuits back then was the first steps of evolution. If you really think of it, what we use now is very much the same as this primitive circuitry but much more compact and efficient. How about that wire woven memory core? WOW!

What is frightening is we sent human beings off into space depending on this very young and unproven technology. I think the fact they had such high quality material, skilled labor, stringent quality control and torture testing burn in period of components probably saved lives. Maybe it's a good thing these computers only had to run a few days properly before we left them on the moon, floating in outer space or bobbing in the ocean. However on the other hand they were very well and overbuilt with reliable material so who knows, this stuff could be still operable today. *eek*
PRO
Synthiam
#6  
Don't think an Arduino would have cut it - without heavy modification to the physical PCB's. Even an EZ-B would be cutting it close. The magnetic interference in space is considerable, because you're on the other side of the shield that protects us down here on earth. Most (if not all) consumer electronics would not function correctly in space, without significant re-design and appropriate shielding. And only certain ICs are designed for space use - I'm sure Atmel has some, but doubt Arduino is efficient enough for it.

When I worked contract for two projects used by NASA, one used Can-bus for use on satellites, shuttle and space station. Without getting into too many details, the project allowed communication between devices to discuss power consumption over can-bus. I was only working on the software side, but saw the hardware struggles that the engineers were dealing with. The requirements were vague until it got into the hands of their engineers for review - that's when a huge eye opener hit. I don't recall the exact details, but the PCB design and components were industrial quality - but not space quality. They kept having to revisit the entire product and re-design. It was actually embarrassing because our engineers thought they knew what they were doing:) so did i!

Every decision that was made had to be documented while designing/implementing. There was more documentation than code! This is all because the conditions in space are/were quite intense. I write "were", because there may be improvements to shielding, etc in today's space tech. But back then there wasn't!

Look at the specs of the Apollo guidance computer and see how ahead of it's time it was - but still super limited:

[feature]
Introduced August 1966; 49 years ago
Discontinued July 1975; 40 years ago
Processor Discrete IC RTL based
Frequency 2.048 MHz
Memory 16-bit wordlength, 2048 words RAM (magnetic core memory), 36,864 words ROM (core rope memory)
[/feature]

Okay, that's 2 mhz in 1966 on something that only weighed 32kg! Remarkable!

To put this into perspective, the Apple ][ was released in 1977 and ran with 1mhz and shipped vanilla with 16kb of ram! You would have assumed that 11 years later, consumer electronics would be competitive.

So, would you have been comfortable going to space with an Apple ][ computer? ha - no way! I'll take the Apollo Computer, thank you! Even though it was still ridiculously crude for the job.
#7  
"More documentation than code". In my previous job I was doing some work for Lockheed Martin on an FAA job. We found a 1 line error in a piece of code we were working with a partner on. We had 20 pages of documents that needed to be filled out to allow us to fix the error.

Hardest project I have ever worked on.

Alan
PRO
Synthiam
#8  
Ha - man i can relate! Lockheed Martin are super dudilgent! I have mixed feelings about them:)
PRO
Synthiam
#9  
Alan, that reminds me of this documentary - which details how the NASA Apollo Computer contract went to MIT... which was unheard of at that time, to have an university do real work!

It's funny because in an interview with this documentary, they talk about how MIT kept screwing up. Obviously, because the students had no real-world work experience. That happens today - kickstarter and indiegogo are good examples. They're projects "Dreamed up" by hobbyists and students with no real-world experience... which is why the products rarely ever get manufactured.

#10  
@DJ... I was just talking about the arduino's computation abilities compared to the Apollo computer... not it's robustness past the Van Allen belt... :)
PRO
Synthiam
#11  
Ah - well that might do it - if the arduino also had an external eeprom for storage - because that's 36,864 words at 16 bit word length which is 73k ROM - which i guess would require the ATmega2560 (256k) because the other arduinos only have only 32k ROM. On top of that, the regular arduino's only have 2k RAM, which means that's not enough and would require additional hardware. The Apollo computer used 4096 Bytes of RAM, which is twice the amount available on an Arduino. So technically, an Arduino couldn't take you to the moon.
#12  
Looks like the most work in the Apollo project, where the computer is concerned, went into how to manufacture the darn thing. All the machines to design and produce. All the procedures that had to be worked out. The programs that had to be created to run the machines. So much by hand and every one had to be perfect. I wonder if any redundancy was built into the modules? Maybe just redundant modules.

You know what would have happened if they had more memory at the time? They would have put more bells and whistles in. Probably nice to have but not really needed bells and whistles. Not to mention more bloated code with things like going to 3 digit accuracy as opposed to 2. A maxim of programming is that the code will expand to fill the available space. Certainly true as far as RAM space goes, even with the gigabytes available today. Limited resources, though, brings about the most innovation and the most creative solutions. Unfortunately the most "creative" (not by the book) methods often break with the next hardware or OS revision.

They didn't have to worry about that though. In a time when funding was generous, no one had to worry about the huge cost of one-of-a-kind parts. Heck, probably everything on the space craft was one-of-a-kind. Every Apollo flight was very risky, but being the first was everything at that time. In the long run though, the monetary cost was well worth it. What they did led to many new industries in the private sector. And they boosted the drive and ambitions of the nerds of the day a great deal. Still do. They're even into humanoid robotics now. About time too.
#13  
Yep! All that and Tang too!

I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. I truly believed I'd make it into Space before I died. I'm pushing 60 now so I doesn't look like that's going to happen. At least I can benefit from the technology that grew from it. Next best thing I guess. ;)