Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - John Miller's introduction

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002

miller.jpg (12606 bytes)

John Miller's Introduction

JOHN MILLER: My name is John Miller. I'll give you a little bit of my background. After two years in World War II, I went to the military academy.

DAVID MINDELL: What did you do here in World War II?

JOHN MILLER: I was in this country. I was in the infantry and then in a hospital evacuation unit, learning how to do medical things. After graduation, I went to Holloman. In 1949 it was the staging area where rockets were being developed, and they were firing V-2s down there and a bunch of the early rockets and stuff. It was the Fourth of July every day.

Then the Air Force sent me to MIT to get a Master's degree. Following that I went to Wright-Patterson and worked on fighter fire control systems. Trying to improve them because of the Korean War, trying to make the F-80s and F-84s and F-86s a little more effective in their fire control.

DAVID MINDELL: You have a Master's degree here?

JOHN MILLER: Yeah. It was in the Aero department in the instrumentation area. And then I taught at the Air Force Institute of Technology for three years and then came to the Instrumentation Lab and joined the navy fleet ballistic missile group. I worked in the development of the second round of guidance systems and principally worked on the digital accelerometer, a pendulous accelerometer, that was put in the second round of the guidance development.

And when that had gone through its first test firing was about the time that the lab got the Apollo program. And Davy Hoag who was an engineer's engineer, and I can't say enough praise for the guy, decided that he would use that in the Apollo inertial system and asked me to come over and work on that, which I did. And then I went through a career of working on the hardware, while these guys were principally on the software area, I was working almost exclusively on the hardware area.

A lot of interaction with the contractors. We had contractors that built the accelerometer. We had contractors that built the gyros. We had a system contractor in General Motors we had a computer contractor in Raytheon. We had a contractor in the optics area, which was Kolsmann, all that sort of thing. And then there was a lot of operation activity having to do with flights, you know, both launching and then operations during that.

So, once this downhill effort started, when most of the work had been done by them and in the hands of the contractors, the lab started looking for other things to do and it was clear at that point, that we thought we might find something else to do.

So we started Intermetrics and it was based upon two fundamental things. One, was the work that had been done in the guidance area and principally in precision navigation in which Ed Copps played the leading role. And the second thing was the programming lessons learned from trying to program that computer in machine language and the difficulty of doing it. And then that effort led into the design of programming languages and building a compiler, which was led by Dan and those are the two kind of building blocks of Intermetrics that came out of the Apollo program and went into Intermetrics.

If you're looking for memorabilia, I have one piece of memorabilia. We had a big dinner one time, Draper was great at having dinners. And he had it at Lockober's and they had the big room up there and they had all the astronauts there. John Glenn and Alan Shepard and Gordon Cooper and Wally Schirra all those guys, plus Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and that group. Well, near the end of the dinner, they took the Lockober menu and--enough copies for everybody and passed it around and everybody--all the astronauts signed it and I have one copy of that.

Also, during the Apollo program, I had a friend who was at NATO, and he asked if we would run some lectures on the Apollo guidance navigation and control. So in 1966, we had a group, Alex was part of it, and we went--Draper was there and Davy Hoag, Wally Vandervelde, Dick Batton, and we went to Europe and spent what? Two weeks or so? At any rate, there was all these sets of lectures were then put into a book, and the book is around if you want.

DAVID MINDELL: I think we've seen that book.

JOHN MILLER: You probably have. It's my background.

DAVID MINDELL: Can you continue the story after?

JOHN MILLER: On what now?

DAVID MINDELL: Just a general overview of the later history of Intermetrics.

JOHN MILLER: The big breaking point at Intermetrics was in 1972 when NASA got permission to build the space shuttle. And we had worked on a number of the technology areas. We'd worked on the computer memory things, we'd worked on some of the guidance things, we worked a lot on the programming language and aspects of if you're going to do more programming of in-flight computers.

And we actually joined a Grumman team that lost when Rockwell won. And then Chris Kraft, who was then director at the Johnson Space Center, criticized Rockwell heavily in the area of the guidance navigation and control in their proposal. And so they set up a special team to take a look at that. And we got invited to kind of participate in that team. And as the result of it, when that team got through looking at the organization and all that sort of thing having to do with the development of the avionics on board the shuttle, Rockwell ended up giving us a contract, and the shuttle contract really took us from near bankruptcy to liquidity and a lot of business that really let the company go.

John Green's introduction

site last updated 30-12-2002 by Alexander Brown