Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - Human-Machine Interaction

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002

kosmala2.jpg (18407 bytes)

Human Machine Interaction

ED COPPS: Has this group talked to my brother, Steve Copps or to John Dahlen?


ED COPPS: Or Jack Shilington?


ED COPPS: Those three people had a unique role. I would say none of those guys were computer guys or software guys. They would write a column over here that says, "Astronaut," and they would have a column over here that says, "Computer," and a column over here that says, "Ground", and they'd write flow diagrams basically that generated the sequential transactions that took place between the computer user, the computer and the third party, which was the ground. I think there was a part that had ground; I can’t even remember. But, it basically described the decision that the astronaut had to make, the question that he would put to the computer, the answer that the computer was expected to give back, the decision that would then be made, and the transactions that would take place as the astronaut proceeded to go to the moon. He would undertake to do a navigation, to do a power flight maneuver, to rotate the vehicle. To take a sighting, whatever, this was elaborated in these guidance system operation plans.

They didn't know the mathematics. In fact, it was important in a way that they didn't know the mathematics. They knew what the idea was--they were very intelligent people. So they would use word descriptions of what the computer was supposed to do, and they knew the buzzwords and they knew the external events that they wanted to have occur.

They, of course, couldn't do this by themselves. They had to work with the mathematicians, with the programmers, with everyone, but the creation of those transaction schemes, I'll call them that, they were Chapter 4 or something of the guidance systems operation plan, but they were transaction schemes. I thought those provided a coherent way for people to get their jobs done, and they were done--and that's kind of a comment on the times. They were truly--one person did the command module. One person did the lunar module and that left a third guy, who was the manager. But there was only three people. Three people did that whole thing for every mission.

DAVID MINDELL: You're touching on a theme that we're also very interested in, which is the human machine interaction within the spacecraft itself and then throughout the network. And we’re also very interested in the names of people we should talk to, because we don't know everybody.

DAN LICKLY: We'd assume something. We'd lay out our thing, and then we'd go see them. They said, "That's not what they want. That's not what they asked. Don't put that. Forget that. This and this, and you got to do it slower and you got to wait." And all of that stuff negotiated the interfaces and those were the guys who laid it on us.

ED COPPS: Alex did the first two I think, which was 202. It started that process going, but like in a lot of human endeavors, the grasping for the intellectual concept, the grasping for the thing that everybody can start to flesh out, is--it's writer's block, it's--"If we don't do this," suddenly somebody steps forward and gets it done. I think Alex was one of the guys that stepped forward and got it done the first time on that 202. Before it gets done -- 202--you deserve a lot of credit. It might not be what the end should have been, but it was the beginning and I think the beginning is such a marvelous thing.

DAVID MINDELL: These things are documents that we can actually collect


ED COPPS: That was actually where we came from. We came from rockets and missiles. Nobody sat in the front of those rockets, you know? So it was natural to do what Alex did. Everything--the computer did everything. Everything was thought out. We had a hard time getting to the concept of somebody sitting there. Banging on the keyboard, getting answers back, banging something else in and asking questions. We had this display in keyboard, which was primitive beyond belief. It didn't even have a decimal point, because it was considered too expensive in terms of our hardware to have a decimal point. So the astronaut, when he saw a number, he had to remember where the decimal point went. That was how primitive the stupid thing was. And the only things the computer did was things that he asked it to do. We had a hard time getting that concept into our heads. Don't you think we did? And then it changed from this idea that we thought about everything and got it done, to sort of we just were in a transaction.

ALEX KOSMALA: The astronaut goes in, turns the computer on and says, "Go to moon," and then sits back and watches while we did everything. Well, that changed a great deal when the astronauts came on the scene.

DAN LICKLY: The good thing was these guys, Ed and Jack and the others there, for engineers, what we wanted to see was this and this and how do we do it? Then we'd go see them and they'd say, "That doesn't make any sense. They aren't going to want to see that. They deal with the astronaut office or the other people. Here's what they'd like to do. They want to do this and this and this," and there would be an entirely different procedure that they'd want to see and we'd have to, after some arguing, give in and give them what they wanted it to do and how they wanted to organize.

Bill Tindall and Conflicts within Apollo.

site last updated 02-01-2003 by Alexander Brown