Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC - Conference 2: Secrecy vs. openness

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Second conference

September 14, 2001


Secrecy vs. Openness

MARGARET HAMILTON: Were the computer instructions classified?

ALEX KOSMALA: Not that I recall.

HERB THALER: The only thing I remember being classified about the computer was the oscillator frequency. 

MARGARET HAMILTON: Because I wasn't able to get a hold of the Block 1 instruction set because of some reason. I thought it had to do with being classified.

JIM MILLER: It was ossified!

MARGARET HAMILTON: Do you remember that, Dan, you weren't able to give me-- Or Alex, you couldn't give me a document because it was classified.

ALEX KOSMALA: I don't remember exactly. But I know there were some source documents that were classified.

MARGARET HAMILTON: So you had to write down-- I can remember you had to write down a few instructions and say, "Here they are." 

FRED MARTIN: Didn't we have safes in that building? I can picture the safe. 


FRED MARTIN: I can't remember what I kept in there.

DAN LICKLY: It was definitely a classified area.

ALEX KOSMALA: I think to do with inertial component performance.

FRED MARTIN: I thought it had to do with the rocket.

MARGARET HAMILTON: You can see how much we were influenced by it.

SLAVA GEROVITCH: Did you have to obtain security clearance?

FRED MARTIN: Yes. We all had security clearances. 

DAN LICKLY: Nothing we ever wrote was classified though.

FRED MARTIN: My security clearance was initiated in the Polaris program.

ALEX KOSMALA: That's where mine came from.

FRED MARTIN: I think it was kept going from that.

MARGARET HAMILTON: But then I had to get one. Although, actually, I had one from the SAGE system. So maybe mine was left open. I don't know.

SLAVA GEROVITCH: Did you have a sense that the military were interested in various innovations that went on in your project?


MARGARET HAMILTON: We never thought in terms of the military.

JIM MILLER: The only military person I can associate with Apollo was General Phillips and he didn't exactly come around looking over our shoulders.

FRED MARTIN: I think that's a little too strong. I don't know that we knew that they weren't interested.

MARGARET HAMILTON: They just weren't part of it.

DAN LICKLY: I think they just thought we were going to totally flop. So why did they want to talk to us?

ALEX KOSMALA: Yeah. Going to the moon was a political thing, not a military thing. There were no objectives that the military was involved in.

FRED MARTIN: They may have been but they didn't—

MARGARET HAMILTON: It was an ego thing.

FRED MARTIN: It might have been coming from the President that this is an open program. That this is a big political show for the world that we're going to have everything, you know.

MARGARET HAMILTON: Because Sputnik happened. So we had to do something even better.

FRED MARTIN: Contrast it with the Russians. They're in the middle of Siberia and nobody knows what's going on. And here, this is completely open.

SLAVA GEROVITCH: In Russia, they would classify any significant invention that might potentially have military significance. Even if it was done within some open program initially. But here, it did not seem to be that kind of oversight in the sense of the military searching for things that are going on that might potentially be important.

FRED MARTIN: There was a big danger in that because the military, it seemed to me, and the people who were in charge of security, had an ever-expanding horizon. You'd have everything being classified because you couldn't tell whether this little gizmo might have military significance. So after a while, you'd wind up with almost everything.

SLAVA GEROVITCH: That's how the Russians were.

Different programming styles

site last updated 12-08-2002 by Alexander Brown