IBM computers have played a key role in each Space Shuttle mission from liftoff to landing. This role follows more than two decades of IBM support to a variety of NASA space programs, including every manned space flight.
For the Space Shuttle, IBM's support has included programming and data processing equipment for onboard and ground-based Space Shuttle monitoring and control, as well as launch support.
The initial Shuttle orbiter avionics data processing system was provided by IBM' s Federal Systems Division under contract to the Space Division of Rockwell International Corp.
Five IBM computers — four of which were arranged in a redundant configuration, with a fifth computer acting as a backup unit — allowed early Shuttle missions to continue even if multiple failures were experienced. The computers cross-checked each other more than 500 times a second. In flight, the Shuttle orbiter was controlled by electrical signals generated by the digital computers — a concept called fly-by-wire — and sent to hydraulic-driven actuators.
Developed at IBM's Owego, N.Y., facility, the onboard computers were part of an Advanced System/4 Pi, avionics computer series. Input/Output Processors, also built in Owego, acted as an interface between the computers and other orbiter systems.
Computer programming for the onboard units was developed at IBM's Houston, Texas, facility for NASA. In addition to the flight controllers, the programs handled the crew displays, monitoring systems and guidance, navigation and control functions.
Examples of early IBM Shuttle contracts (ca. late-1970s):
The Shuttle Data Processing Complex was the data system at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center used for Shuttle Mission Control. It consisted of three IBM System/370 Model 168s as well as system programs. The hardware and standard software for the Shuttle Data Processing Complex was supplied by IBM's Data Processing Division in White Plains, N.Y.
The Space Shuttle General Purpose Computer was one of five computers providing navigation and control processing functions aboard each Shuttle. Each computer consisted of a central processor (IBM's Advanced System/4 Pi) and an input/output processor.
The Space Shuttle Display was an electrically-controlled cathode-ray tube data display and memory facility associated with the onboard data processing system. IBM received a contract from Rockwell International to provide display systems for five orbiters as well as laboratory, simulator and spare systems.
Onboard Shuttle Programming controlled the data processing equipment and application programs. IBM developed some of these programs and provided flight equipment interface devices.
Launch Processing System. The Shuttle launch and launch preparation facilities in Florida were supported by a highly complex test data system designed by IBM.
For details on Space Shuttle history, visit: