Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC Conference 3 - Dave Bates' Introduction

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Third conference

November 30, 2001

Dave Bates

Dave Bates' Introduction

DAVE BATES: My name is Dave Bates. I start before Polaris.  I got drafted into the Army and sent to Huntsville, Alabama, because they figured any guy who was a mechanical engineer that came from Sperry Gyroscope must know all about gyroscopes, which was kind of difficult because I was a structural engineer. But anyway, I was assigned to the guidance and control laboratory, under Dr. Heusermann, and I was in charge of the guidance and control laboratory from a military standpoint.

DAVID MINDELL: Can you just back up a little bit? When were you at Sperry, and where, and what did you work on?

DAVE BATES: I was at Sperry from about '53 to '55, got drafted into the Army and sent to Huntsville. I was a Lieutenant, in charge of the guidance and control laboratory. We were working on the Redstone, Jupiter and Pershing. Von Braun was very much interested in space exploration, so we were building the Explorer satellite, in the back room. I worked on that, in a program called Hardtack, which was an atomic firing of the Redstone missile. They would always revert back to the V-2 type of hardware, so it was kind of difficult to work as to what was going on. So, the old Redstone computers were analog and they used ball disk integrators, which held me from the standpoint of being on the mechanical side.

DAVID MINDELL: Was it Ford who made those?

DAVE BATES: Ford Instrument Company made the first ones in Long Island City. So then what happened was the Navy got interested in the Polaris program, and they decided they were going to use the Jupiter A - we had the Jupiter A, B and C. The Jupiter B was the first forerunner of Polaris, the Mariner ships, and they were first talking about taking the Jupiter missile and putting it on board a ship, on board a submarine. This was ridiculous because they use liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, and air-bearing gyros, which made it rather difficult.

My job through this whole thing was not only from the mechanical standpoint but, when the head of the project office had a heart attack I went over and took over the project office for von Braun and for the people there. So I was assigned the job of working with the Navy to try to determine how the Jupiter B could be utilized in the next generation of Polaris. And I worked with all the people that came down from the Instrumentation Lab, like Davey Hoag and Ralph Ragan and the rest of them, and the people in the Navy, like Sam Porter. The Navy decided that since the Army was having a problem with the Air Force on the Jupiter versus the Thor, that they would pull out. And so they pulled out of the Army in Huntsville, but we kept an awful lot of the people down there in Huntsville, to work on the program. One of them, Jim Matthews, who finally came with me to Raytheon, worked on the early guidance scheme from the standpoint of the trajectory and what was going to be done. And actually he was the guy that worked with Dahlgren and determined those equations.

When I got to my end of time at the army, they wanted me to stay there, but my home was in Boston, so I took a job with GE, in Pittsfield, who had the Polaris program, and I was program manager for the Polaris guidance system. At that time we had the Mark I system, working with Draper Laboratory and I was in the Instrumentation Laboratory at that time. My main responsibility was the coordination of all the components from the standpoint of the first EA that was worked on with the Mark I and then all of the IMU, which we built at GE in Pittsfield.

When Polaris Mark II came, we kept on going, but it didn't look like Polaris was going to go much further than that. The guy that hired me for G.E. in Pittsfield knew I came from Huntsville. He came down and worked for Raytheon. The problem that Raytheon and also the Instrumentation Laboratory had at that time was the working relationship between NASA Huntsville and NASA Houston. I, having been in NASA Huntsville for a long time, and being in charge of the guidance and control laboratory, knew the people down in Huntsville. So I was hired, and my first stint was in marketing and advanced program development to look at how Raytheon could work with both Houston and with Huntsville. So it got to be more of a working relationship and an interface to try and do that. So I worked more with customers and with the people who were building the hardware and designing the hardware, which included the Instrumentation Lab and the people in Waltham.

I went through a number of jobs in that area, but finally ended up working for Jack Poundstone, in the area of advanced program development. I retired about ten years ago, and now I'm a consultant to a number of companies.

DAVID MINDELL: The Sperry gyroscope group is of great interest to me, because a lot of the first book is about the Sperry gyroscope and Ford and the relationship of--

DAVE BATES: I'll bring in one of his first auto-pilots. I bought it as junk, at five dollars a pound.

DAVID MINDELL: I bought a Mark 14 gunsight, brand-new one, for $100, on eBay. It's in my office, downstairs, actually.

DAVE BATES: That's how I learned about gyros. Because you could blow into the end of this thing and you could see the way that the gyro was precessing, when you moved the thing. You know, as a side thing, they had me come down to Huntsville at one time, to the museum that's down there, and go up into the third floor and look at all the hardware. And if you've never seen a lot of junk, there's a lot of junk up there, and you can go around and you'd point at each one and what it was. The AB-5s, the old gyros, the old accelerometers, the old lateral and range computers, what we used - LEV-3 was the old platform for the Germans on the V-2.

DAVID MINDELL: This is on display or in their back room?

DAVE BATES: In their back room, but there are some on display, now that they've figured out what they are.

DAVID MINDELL: I've been there, but not for a long time.

DAVE BATES: There is a blockhouse that you can go to, at the Cape, which you can get into, which has got an old LEV-3 system in it, plus a whole bunch of hardware, and they use it for VIPs--who was it, Jack Dennis, in there one time.

Next: Jack Poundstone's Introduction

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