September 14, 2021

6:00 pm


Seventy-six Kilobytes to the Moon

The goal was perfectly clear. We could see it in the sky. Getting there took rocket fuel, mathematics and imagination, and their nexus was the onboard guidance computer that would compute the trajectory and command the rockets to fire. Hardware designers imagined the language that the coders would need and the circuits that would speak the words. The systems designers imagined a structure in which more than one thing could seem to happen at the same time. And the mission coders, looking upward and taking their cue from the astronauts and mission planners, imagined the logic that would create an almost living third presence aboard the spacecraft as it planted its feet in lunar dust.



Show Summary

The topic tonight was 76 kilobytes to the moon. We had two amazing presenters, Don and Teasel. The topic was really the amazing men machines, software planning, and all the rich work that brought us to the series of powerful Apollo missions. The Teasel reminded us that we were animated at the time by a Cold War context. And john reminded us of the magnitude of the Apollo missions with 400,000 employees and the average age in Mission Control of 27 and spending 25 billions for what was easily the most challenging mission I think of of mankind up until that point. We heard about the daisy chains of risks that were constantly present and overcome including fires, alarms, docking challenges and potential for ex explosions. I think a lot of the movies seem to have picked up on some of these points. Don told us that after the Apollo one fire, not many would have bet on it. Two successful landings by the end of that decade, Apollo 11, and 12. And we also heard a lot more about the detailed simulation of every part of the mission, the individuals who were involved, the challenges people took on and the incredible technologies, sort of a lot of learning on the go. One, one impression I came away with was how often Mission Control really was, I guess, is what they now call agile, but kind of save the day and learn teachable moments from challenges like Apollo 11. But really, you know, regrouping, answering alarms figuring out what was going wrong. Dan reminded us that success in the Apollo series came from trusting young people, a management culture to get out of the way and protect innovators or imaginators, from distraction and to give them tools to succeed. Something every organization now needs to learn. I think people now have more and more bureaucracy. And he also reminded us that it was a very open context, there were not a lot of secrets. And that's part of what allowed all the space technology to move into the private sector. Both Donnan and TCL talked about the new era of space exploration we're in now, we're not only Russia and China are active, but also India and many other countries where billionaires are leading a space race. But as Don pointed out fighting for different goals. And we have multiple ways to reach low or if or low Earth orbit. And we're flying missions as rose reminded us without joysticks. So sometimes without human intervention, and very much relying on the machine part. Don and Teasel talked about today's moon landing challenge could be argued to be climate change, which requires skills from carpentry to astronomy, to oceanography to Intel and computer science, which Don described as more difficult in his view than spaceflights. So let's hope for a similar coming together of the diverse skill sets with men machines, maybe a few women needed to make life on this planet more secure for the future. And thank you so much done. teasel, our amazing audience, Rose Thomas and Mike for joining us on stage. And just for bringing the the just depth and richness of the Apollo mission to our clubhouse group tonight.