Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - Relations with MIT

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002

lickly4.jpg (11301 bytes)

Relations with MIT

ALEXANDER BROWN: It seems to me that there's a split down the table. We have two hardware guys on this side. I seem to be hearing strongly this sense of how Intermetrics developed as a software company. So I would be kind of curious to hear the stories from the perspective of people who came out of MIT as hardware guys. You told me that your intellectual involvement peaked in the late '60's and at that point, there was a realization that the interesting work had been done, and so you moved out. So I'd be interested to hear you sort of pick up the story at that point.

Fred's made it very clear that there was a strong focus on program languages, on compilers, on that kind of technology. How did that work out for you guys with your backgrounds in hardware?

JOHN MILLER Well, I mean these were the smart guys that did all the work.

ALEX KOSMALA: John became the language expert, that's what I perceived. I mean I've heard John making a presentation of this stuff in the old days on how other languages sounded.

DAN LICKLY: John was our best salesman. He was the one that really spoke in the soft ones--knew how to soft-talk people to get business, which is a knack very few people have.

JOHN MILLER What drove you out of the Instrumentation Lab was I think the management of the laboratory, which, in effect, came over one day and said, "Well, the NASA project is going down. You've got to find some more work, you know, to keep your stuff together. If you got some ideas about what you might do to get some business in here, come tell us about it, and we'll approve it as to whether we let you go back there or not." And that sounded a little bit discouraging.

So we started talking about what we might be able to do --if we're going to go out and chase business, we might as well chase it for ourselves, rather than the laboratory. So we started talking about what we might be able to do.

I knew we couldn't go into the hardware business, because of the capital investment required and the things that we knew about, that is inertial guidance systems and that sort of thing. No way could we find the resources to be able to get into that, nor did we think we could make money at it. So it was turning to various other activities, but using the technology that had been developed out of--that came out of the Instrumentation Lab.

I think, as these guys have said, there are two fundamental legs that Intermetrics stood on was in the navigation arena, fundamentally called the Kalman filtering and the knowledge about navigation. Then the second thing was the computer programming area, which the difficulties of programming the Apollo computer in machine language and then trying to use technology --programming languages and compilers--to make that job more reliable and better easier


ALEXANDER BROWN: Did you maintain close contacts with the Instrumentation Lab, or with MIT, as a whole, after Intermetrics moved?

JOHN MILLER I would say, no. I would probably say no. There was a certain amount of resentment of leaving the laboratory and so on and so forth, but for a long time, there really wasn't good contact with the Instrumentation Lab, but eventually over time it changed and so on. I'd say today that I personally know a lot of people over there today. There's not many left that were there when I was there, because that was a long time ago.

ALEXANDER BROWN: But you wouldn't for example have students doing internships or experimental work with you at MIT for example? I know that, for example, BBN, who were another MIT spinoff maintain quite close ties with MIT. Students would come to MIT, work in the BBN labs towards their theses. And there would be this sort of very open-door policy between the two companies, and so I'm wondering if that kind of relationship existed. I mean given the origins of all of you folks with the strong MIT ties, and presumably, you must have maintained friendships with people who were still at the Instrumentation. I'm wondering if there was that professional contact?

JOHN MILLER I think that people maintained excellent relations with the members of the faculty in the aero department. And there were other relationships that individuals had in a very nice way. There was no business to be done together. I mean it didn't engender getting a lot of contacts.

ALEXANDER BROWN: You did research. You did pick up interns, like work/study programs?

DAN LICKLY: Well we certainly hired lots of MIT students when they got out of graduate, that was our No. 1 source of our employees was from MIT. I mean I probably hired nearly 100 during the times we were there alone, along with other schools, Harvard, Caltech, we had quite a few from there.

There was a pipeline coming right over from the graduation in certain departments, because we had a lot of advantages the kids liked. We were close by, a good environment. We were still in Cambridge, so we became a big employer of recent grads.

Protests during the 1960s and 1970s.

site last updated 02-01-2003 by Alexander Brown