Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC Conference 3 - Formalization of Project Management

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Third conference

November 30, 2001

AGC logic modules

Formalization of Project Management

DAVID MINDELL: Was the formalization of the management program a good thing?

JACK POUNDSTONE: Oh, eventually. It had to happen, eventually.

DAVE BATES: I need to keep pointing out that those first three years of developing the team and developing the purpose regardless of all these outside things, gave them the flexibility to come up with a design and with what was necessary to do the job. Could you ever do that again? I don't think that could ever happen again.

ELDON HALL: You talk about formalization, though, I don’t think even near the end of this program, it wasn't formalized like modern-day programs. It was so much freer

JACK POUNDSTONE: It was never formalized that way. It was never run like an Air Force program was.

DAVE BATES: I’d like to say a little bit more about standardization and components. There was standardization with the integrated circuits, diodes, and resistors. Eldon knows more than most how the design engineers couldn’t do it. We couldn't live with just one gate. You couldn’t live with one PNP and one NPN. And, you needed more power or put enough power with it,

JACK POUNDSTONE: I mean, today that’s all written in a big manual that says you’re supposed to have part standardization lists to do this and this and that. Back in those days, the first standardization list was in Eldon’s hip pocket. And he said, "Here are the parts you’re going to use, and here are the resistor values you’re going to use, and here are the capacitor values you’re going to use. And if you can’t do it that way, go figure out how to do it." So the engineers would come in to him, "I got to have this and I got to have that," and he’d tell them to go away. He had to be tough and be stubborn and he was. Eventually, a guy can always figure out a way if you gave him enough time, but it took that sort of discipline. But it wasn't formalized. As I say, it was in his hip pocket.

DAVE HANLEY: And it wasn’t easy.

BARD TURNER: I think one good example of how things ran is this. A funny example, but I think it fits. I remember hearing over the general page in the Apollo building one day, "the regularly scheduled Tuesday NASA meeting has been postponed from Wednesday to Thursday."

DAVE HANLEY: But I do remember those Friday meetings.

JACK POUNDSTONE: There was another area where I think we pioneered which hasn't been talked about. But I don’t believe any program every worried as much about reliability. Maybe we weren't as effective, but reliability was complementary to that program.

ED BLONDIN: That was the first project with a man on board.

DAVE HANLEY: I think one thing I really appreciated, that after we got the flight specs, I heard the Raytheon managers, you know, arguing about which lot of ICs was the best lot. Which should we use in which machine?

JACK POUNDSTONE: That brings up a story I meant to tell and I forgot. The challenge, once we went to ICs was that here was a brand new component being made by a brand new industry and the total number that we really needed wasn’t all that many. We were only going to build 30 computers or something. It really wasn’t that many. So how do we get reliability out of a brand new component when you aren’t going to build very many? I don’t remember whether it was Eldon’s idea or mine, but I'm sure NASA would have choked if we had to get them to bless it. We decided that in the ground support equipment, this test equipment we were building for the factory, instead of building it out of resistors and transistors, we built it out of absolute same integrated circuits. And then when we got a lot of ICs in and we tested the lot, and if it was a little bit shaky, we put it in the ground support equipment. Take the good ones and put it in the flight hardware.

ED DUGGAN: Didn’t the captive line concept evolve out of this?

ELDON HALL: No, it was Polaris. Polaris Block 1 had the captive line system, and the fire control used the same transistors as we chose for the computer. That was dictated by Del Cole.

ED DUGGAN: That was a fairly innovative step, I think.

DAVE BATES: I think one of the things that amplifies what they have just said is with the core ropes. I don’t know whether anybody can remember this, but I was involved. We had a situation where one of the core ropes passed its acceptance. There was no problem with it, and it was rejected. So I went down to see one of these little old ladies and said, "Hey, you know, it passed everything. It cost $75,000 and you’ve scrapped the thing. Why can’t we use it?"

Well, what NASA did was they brought in a lot of the astronauts to go through the plants, and the astronauts became the sons of these little old ladies. So this little old lady looks up at me with this face and she says, "You know, I built that and it passed. But I don't think it’s too good. So you wouldn’t want me to pass something that I thought wasn’t too good, to pass onto one of our boys." It got scrapped. So this type of philosophy was there. It was always that there is a man in the loop and somebody’s going to be out there having to count on this thing. This isn’t a missile that we fire and maybe it goes up the stack. You’re talking about people. And NASA was smart. They brought these astronauts around not just to meet management. They brought them down to meet everybody that was on the floor. And as I say, the other engineers and the rest were fine. But these little old ladies adopted every one of those astronauts.

HERB BRISS: Absolutely right. And they were brought in under the guise of wanting to see how the components are made. But the ladies -- they talked to the ladies like they were their mothers.

DAVE BATES: And wanted the little old ladies to think about this. And the astronauts would ask, "how do you think this thing is going together?" And, they were very much interested in every process that these little old ladies were doing.

HERB BRISS: If they had a suggestion, and it was mentioned, you had to listen. And you got two or three or them together, you’d have some general agreement that maybe we should change this.

DAVID MINDELL: The astronauts or the women?

HERB BRISS: The women. You don’t ask the astronauts anything. They had a different agenda.

DAVID MINDELL: If any of you know or have any leads, we would love to find some of these women and talk to them, if they're still around.

ED BLONDIN: I knew the first level supervisors. I know their names, and they all lived in and around the Waltham area. Waltham was a great Italian enclave at the time, and they all have Italian names. Kitty Cicardo.

JACK POUNDSTONE: I know, for instance, Virginia Milato.

ED BLONDIN: Yes, Eleanor Capadona.

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