Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - Changing Environments

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002


Changing Environments

ALEXANDER BROWN: Could it be stimulating as well, though?

ED COPPS: Scary.

FRED MARTIN Well, what happened was that we became a contractor to North American Aviation, an airplane manufacturer. I don't know if you've ever been out to North American Aviation, but it doesn't look like this building looks. It looks like this huge hangar where everybody sits in rows on desks with telephone wires coming down and there's just a general din. And these guys do everything that they do by whatever book they created and they're documented up the wazoo and they do things the way they do things on fighter planes. And we found ourselves in an environment that was very difficult.

ED COPPS: And secondly, not so much in the shuttle program side, but in that program a little, but in the programs that I worked on, money. You not only had to do a good job, but you had to do it for less money than you thought you needed and the people that you dealt with were--they were getting beat on by their superiors, too, for cost. The cost of everything was all anybody seemed to care about and we had come from--I had come from the Instrumentation Laboratory and the Apollo program--where the cost was not the question, it was not the issue. "Get it done." And we had to not only get it done, but we had to get it done--it was like having to play tennis with a net, you know what I mean. For the first time we actually had to hit it over the net, and these people were awful. The people that I suddenly had to deal with and the environment that I had to deal with. My father was a businessman and I thought that it was right for me to be a businessman, that was the life. I’m a kid from Vermont, I'm not talking about big business, I'm talking about little business. Just a diner, a 24-hour diner. And I knew that life and I thought that that's what business was like. And it is like that in many ways somewhere, but not where I was. Not where I was, I would do the most excellent job. A job that I personally would be proud of and I would get nothing but criticism. Criticism that I felt was totally unjustified. It was irrational. And it had a heavy toll on me, just a heavy toll on me. I couldn't understand the reason for a world like that. It was awful and that was not a good life. Very difficult.

FRED MARTIN We did have a couple of trump cards, I think. In other words in 1972 and 1973, we were working on the shuttle program for North American Aviation in this milieu that Ed just described, which was pretty awful. But we had roots that went back into the Apollo program. And we had people at NASA who were very friendly to us and sort of, I think believed that we had our head screwed on right and that if we brought things to their attention or we objected to something, there must be something to it. So we had a few people down there who we could appeal to, not just get bashed by these huge dinosaurs mashing everybody, and that was helpful.

The 1970s

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