IBM computers provide data for launching and tracking Project Echo, the pioneering U.S. experiment in space communications. Echo I is a plastic and aluminum balloon, 100 feet in diameter, that circulates the Earth. Predicting the fluctuating orbits of the lightweight satellite is a challenge to these early computers but they succeed.
A new IBM 7090 data processing system is acquired by NASA to perform key design and development calculations for Project Saturn — the development of a super booster with a thrust of 1.5-million pounds to power flights to the Moon. The solid-state 7090 is expected to provide the most accurate and detailed trajectory simulations ever plotted. It furnishes data from storage in 2.18 millionths of a second and adds 13,740,000 figures a minute.
NASA launches two Project Mercury manned suborbital flights. IBM computers make millions of calculations a minute to help flight controllers make vital decisions throughout the missions.
Mercury Astronaut John Glenn in Friendship 7 becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. His historic four-hour, three-orbit flight is monitored in real-time by IBM computers, which: calculate the path of the spacecraft during launch to assist flight controllers with the "go, no go" decision; process incoming data from the worldwide tracking network; produce information to operate orbital and location displays at the mission control center; advise tracking stations where to look for the spacecraft; and indicate when retro-rockets should be fired to bring the spacecraft down in the desired recovery area.
IBM receives the contract for the first guidance computer for the Saturn series of launch vehicles.
IBM begins work on the guidance computer that will help steer the two-man Gemini capsule (The IBM Federal Systems Division contract is worth some $36 million, and results in about 1,500 man-years over the next four years to build and maintain a computer system that is 15 times more powerful than the IBM computer complex used to support Project Mercury. The system handles over 25 billion calculations a day during the time when the Gemini capsules are in flight.)
Using the Telstar satellite, IBM sends computer information back and forth between Endicott, N.Y. and La Gaude, France.
IBM employees and computers help NASA track the 22-orbit flight of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper in Faith 7.
A 99-pound IBM computer becomes the first onboard computer to guide a vehicle from launch into space. Mounted onboard the Saturn SA-6, the IBM system handles the thousands of complex calculations needed to determine the position and velocity of a vehicle during launch, even compensating for an emergency engine shutdown by issuing a command to redirect the thrust of other engines.
The Ranger VII satellite televises the first close-up pictures of the Moon, assisted by computer-calculated mid-course adjustments to its trajectory.
IBM's Federal Systems Division is awarded a contract for part of the Saturn launch vehicles, the largest space contract in company's history to date.
An IBM guidance computer is used on all Gemini flights, including the first spaceship rendezvous, with Gemini 6 (Astronauts Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford) and Gemini 7 (Astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell). Weighing just 59 pounds and occupying only 1.35 cubic feet of space, the onboard system performs some 7,000 calculations a second to bring the two vehicles nose-to-nose, 120-feet apart, 185 miles above Hawaii. The computer features a memory system capable of holding nearly 20,000 bytes of information.
Intercontinental television arrives when the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat) launches the Early Bird satellite into a stationary orbit above the Earth. Calculations produced by an IBM computer help put Early Bird into its elliptical temporary orbit and then help to decide the exact moment for firing the small engine to kick the satellite into its synchronous orbit.
The Mariner IV satellite flies to within 6,100 miles of Mars and sends back to Earth photographs of the Martian surface in binary code. An IBM computer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory analyzes the data for accuracy and produces a corrected tape from which finished pictures are produced.
The IBM 2361 Core Storage Unit, the largest computer memory ever built by the company, is shipped to NASA space center in Houston. Featuring nearly 20 million doughnut-shaped ferrite cores and capable of storing 2.6 megabytes of information, the 2361 consists of a cabinet only five by 2.5 feet standing less than six feet high.
IBM scientists complete the most precise computation of the Moon's orbit.
For the first time, a Gemini spacecraft is automatically guided through reentry by an onboard computer system. The IBM computer, barely larger than a bread box, successfully calculates and triggers the rocket firings to bring Astronauts Conrad and Gordon in Gemini 11 down closer to the recovery carrier than any previous flight had been able to do.
The Apollo program launches three unmanned Saturn 1 uprated launch vehicles controlled and monitored by the IBM-fabricated Instrument Unit (IU). The IU guides the Saturn into orbit, and in actual lunar missions, guides the spacecraft into a proper trans-lunar path. The IU also monitors and controls vehicle environment and systems performance. (IBM is under contract to NASA to provide 27 IUs in total -- 15 for uprated Saturn Is and 12 for the Saturn V launch vehicles.)
The Surveyor satellite makes the first U.S. soft lunar landing. IBM computers are used to clarify the thousands of photographs Surveyor relays to Earth.
IBM plays a key role in the successful Saturn V test flight.
A two-ton, three-foot high, 21-foot diameter, IBM-assembled Instrument Unit guides the Apollo 8 astronauts in the first manned circumlunar flight. IBM computers in Houston monitor almost every phase of the mission, including the heartbeats of the astronauts. The computers, five System/360 Model 75s at the Manned Spacecraft Center, work in real-time — so fast there is virtually no time between receiving and solving an Apollo computing problem.
NASA delves deeper into theoretical space exploration, becoming the first customer to receive an IBM System/360 Model 91.
The computer, the fastest, most powerful ever put into user operation, is used for deep space simulations.
The Apollo 11 astronauts make the first manned landing on the Moon with the help of IBM computers.
An onboard computer in the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory II operates for a full year.
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