Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - Dan Lickly's introduction

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002

lickly.jpg (16422 bytes)

Dan Lickly's Introduction

DAN LICKLY: I want to echo what Ed said about managing. When we were at the Instrumentation Lab, you had a lot of good people, who took responsibility. You know, never have I worked in a place that had so many good people as that, so that made it a lot easier when you have such colleagues who are dedicated and know what they're going after.

Now, backing up, a little bit, you wanted background. I was also an MIT undergrad and grad in Course 16, and we had a lot to do with servo theory like a lot of us. That was what I did my thesis on. I first went to work for the Instrumentation Lab in the summer of 1954, so that was a long time ago.

I think Jim Flanders was around then at the lab. I remember him being at that aero department, a lot of people from aero were also working for the lab. That summer was terrific for me because Wally Vandervelde was like a mentor and spent an hour a day--he's still a professor here--teaching me a lot of things, especially about analog computers, that he knew a lot of. And, I, by the end of that summer, was an expert.

And analog computers through the first part of the '50's are what they used for servo work, not only at the lab, where we used it for all our missiles and so on, but I went to work for a year out in California aerospace and they had the most monstrous analog computer facility. They did all their work--airplane, pitch damper, yaw dampers, auto pilots, control with analog, which I loved. I sort of miss them to this day. Someone ought to do a paper on what happened to the old analog computers.

But, they didn't have digital computers yet, they were coming on in the mid '50's, and still the aero calculations were done by a roomful of mostly women with Freedman and Monroe Marchant calculators, doing these huge tables by hand. It wasn't till maybe '58 or so that you begin to get digital computers for calculation.

ALEX KOSMALA: I know I had one of those parked in my office from '60, '62. It had 30 significant digits.

DAN LICKLY: Then I came back to go into a Ph.D., but the Polaris got so exciting that I couldn't help going to work. I think everybody here today was on the Polaris.

JOHN GREEN: No. I was never on Polaris.

DAN LICKLY: Okay. I knew you worked with John, but that was later then. One exception. A lot of the people on Apollo came from the Polaris. And we did things--we were very young--but the Polaris moved fast. You can't build things with all the computers today. I mean they put that submarine together in 18 months by taking an old one and splitting it in two and adding--you know, you can't do things fast today, despite what people say. They built the Empire State building in 13 months, try to do that today, a floor a day, with hot rivets. I mean the speed with which people did things was incredible. So this came up at one of our previous meetings saying people were too young to do the Apollo, and we were young, as Ed said, but the people who were the most doing part in that had already been through Polaris. We had written interfaces with contractors. We had been in Florida for launches and done data. We had been through the cycle of development and put it in there, so we weren't unaware of all the problems. A lot of us were in the mid '20's when this all started, but we had been through it.  So, at least on our side, the Polaris side.  However,  the research guys had been more over there doing research, but it was a good mix of both, the Battins, and Milt Tragesers and others who had done all the theoretical development.

Now, back to your question of background, that was my background in instrumentation and control, as they called it. I had done autopilot development work. We did Apollo. We developed the guidance equations. I just ran across a thing--a paper, Ed and I gave, a classified paper in 1959 or '60 in California. I didn't even know--it's still there on Q guidance. And then we all jumped on Apollo, and I was the reentry guidance to start with and led that group for four or five years right through the first stuff. And eventually Ray North was the guy who did almost all of that. We only had four or five people. It was never a very big group. Unfortunately, Ray died in a ski accident and unlike nowadays when you have computers and everything, it's very hard getting records--I don't know how you get records of the old old stuff, but I tried to get them out of Draper and other--it's very hard getting old paper stuff from 40, 50 years ago. Too bad, there wasn't an Internet in those days. Allan Klumpp, an old guy we worked with at JPL, and we were exchanging e-mails, he wanted information. I didn’t think to try to have him get them from NASA. I inquired of people at what's now Draper and no one knows. They said, "Well, there's a room full of archives some place." I'm just looking for SGA memos. I don't even know where they are. Maybe some of you guys kept them.

ED COPPS: I kept them for a long long time, but I moved one too many times.

DAN LICKLY: I think I have some if I ever straightened it out. I couldn't help Allan. He had a few questions, a few Mars landings, that I couldn't help him with.

Anyway, then we all got going on Apollo, and you know the rest. You've heard a lot of it before. It's a really exciting project for all the '60's and everybody here had different areas. Ed and I and Alex were all over for Dick Battin's Analysis group. But, we also worked with Davy Hoag for many years. And we all think Davy Hoag was just unbelievable as a technical mentor

ED COPPS: I don't know whether you've had an opportunity to talk with David, but to my mind, he was my greatest mentor as an engineer. He was the best that I ever came to know.

John Miller's introduction.

site last updated 30-12-2002 by Alexander Brown