Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC Conference 3 - Jack Poundstone's Introduction.

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Third conference

November 30, 2001

Jack Poundstone

Jack Poundstone's Introduction

JACK POUNDSTONE: My name is Jack Poundstone and I got on the Apollo program by another devious route. I was a graduate mining engineer from West Virginia University, and after spending about a year, year and a half as a sales engineer crawling around in the coal mines of Kentucky and West Virginia, I decided that wasn't the thing to do. I went in the army, got drafted, or volunteered for the draft, and through a bunch of strange circumstances I ended up in Huntsville, at the missile guidance school down there. I ended up being an instructor, teaching guidance on the Corporal missile and also on Nike--I guess it was Nike Ajax. Corporal had analog computers doing everything, so I cut my teeth on analog computers.

When I got out of the army I went to work for Westinghouse, in Baltimore, and I worked on the Bomarc project, which was a very early missile program for this country, and Bomarc was one of the first digital computers being used. You may recall that IBM had a big computer up in Kingston, New York, SAGE, and they were somehow processing all the radar data that came out of Eglund Air Force base. But my job was developing simulators, because the IBM computer was so far behind in schedule there was no way you'd ever be able to test this missile without something to simulate those computers.

So I got a touch of work in digital computers there. And subsequently, after four years there and getting a high-school degree in electrical engineering, I went onto a small company in Huntsville for about six months and when NASA was formed and Huntsville almost died, it seemed like it was time to leave, and I ended up working in Raytheon in New England. And I got there just about a month or two after they had gotten their first Polaris contract. So I was probably the only guy in the Raytheon company, at that time, who'd ever heard of the words digital computer. It was a very analog kind of company. So that was lucky - I was in the right place at the right time.

Since Raytheon got the contract to be an industrial support contract to MIT instrumentation lab, I ended up working with Eldon Hall almost from the day I got there and was a project engineer at Raytheon, providing support to the instrumentation lab and the development of Polaris. Ultimately we produced the machine in our manufacturing plant. And, as several people have said, the evolution of Apollo really started from Polaris.

So, when Apollo came along, after Doc Draper had done such a great job of getting Draper the responsibility for the guidance system on a sole source basis, without a competition, they decided they needed some industrial support contractors. There were several aspects of the program--the IMU and the computer and some of the analog electronics, quite a few things. So we ended up bidding on it and, thanks to the gentleman across the table, Mr. Hall, Raytheon was able to win that contract and I then became the Raytheon technical director for our efforts to support Draper and Apollo. I spent four years in that program, doing everything that had to be done to make sure that all of the resources of Raytheon were applied to the program as effectively as they could be.

I spent four years so busy that I don't even remember my kids, to tell you the truth. We worked so hard. And after that I became so close to Draper Lab, that I became--well, they said I didn't have the right attitude or something like that. NASA had decided to organize the program--after we had been going for four years, it was time to get organized. So they took Raytheon and Kollsman, who were the contractors for the optics, and said they had to be subcontractors to A.C. Spark Plug, and that was done by decree. The contractual arrangements changed but I kept doing the same thing we'd been doing for years, which was to try to get the job done and do it in an efficient manner. And after a few months A.C. Spark Plug decided I was much too close to Draper Labs, so they fired me, or they told me to get off the program.

Now, that was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me, because I got off just as all the fun was over and was able to get onto the Poseidon program and the rest of the navy programs when a lot of people here got stuck in a program that was going downhill. But anyway, at the time, I thought it was earth-shattering. But certainly Apollo was a wonderful experience. I have never seen such a group of dedicated, hardworking people as there were between the contractors and instrumentation lab at that time. I don't know if NASA ever appreciated how hard everybody worked, but they certainly did. And successes come from it.

Next: Ed Blondin's introduction

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