Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC: Conference 4 - The 1970s

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Fourth conference

September 6, 2002

The 1970s

DAN LICKLY: When did you establish the California office, they haven't been out there for a number of years? When did you join?

JOHN MILLER: I would say around '73 or '74.

DAN LICKLY: They've got a fairly large office there who had to deal with Rockwell on a daily basis, North American.

ED COPPS: My role in the company was such that I never really dealt very much with NASA, who were, in some ways, the good guys. I dealt with the Air Force and the Space Division of Air Force. I found it very difficult, incredibly difficult.

FRED MARTIN: I want to say something that I think is very cogent, and that is that if you look back on the beginnings of Intermetrics, there were a few things that Intermetrics did that were outstanding and brought the company a lot of press and a lot of people. I don't think we actually knew at the time because when we started to build these language compilers, Dan was one page ahead of everybody reading his book on these compilers. But the fact of matter is that we were doing that, and what I think is unusual is that we built a staff which eventually, unfortunately, one way or the other, populated all the other companies in this area with the kind of expertise for language and compilers.

And the big break that we got was that it was in 1975 when there was a showdown and NASA was going to either accept or reject this language for shuttle. And once again we drew on people who were friends like Bill Tindall or people like that and we had a real bake-off, which was an exercise in pseudo science where I can show you by this slight of hand and all these statistics how this compiler was really good. But the fact of the matter is that they accepted it and that was in 1975 and it's now 2002, they're still using that language, even though they would like to get rid of it. But they've invested so much in ancillary support programs and analysis programs and everything else and there's such a tremendous investment in software that it still exists.

DAN LICKLY: We based what we had learned in Apollo, a little like MAC from MIT, but we also added some stuff for IBM and sort of PL/1ish all together. It had a lot of dirty little corners, but it did the job. And then came ADA in the late '70's. Intermetrics designed Ada which turned out we designed a big bake-off and that time they took the French version and then Tucker Taft redesigned it later, which you is the '95 version, which my friends say, is the best thing since sliced bread, it's terrific. But it was based on Pascal and now everyone wants C++ language so it's probably going nowhere even though they say it's terrific.

FRED MARTIN So I think that the language compiler work is one of the things that Intermetrics is really building their reputation on. The other avenue, I think, was in the area of what was it, in those early days it was GPS and Navigation, sort of another part of the company that was spending a lot of effort on theoretical stuff and analysis. And we'd lose contracts.

Relations with MIT


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