ISBN-10:
0262134977
ISBN-13:
9780262134972
Pub. Date:
04/04/2008
Publisher:
MIT Press
Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight

Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight

by David A. Mindell
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Overview

How human pilots and automated systems worked together to achieve the ultimate in flight—the lunar landings of NASA's Apollo program.

As Apollo 11's Lunar Module descended toward the moon under automatic control, a program alarm in the guidance computer's software nearly caused a mission abort. Neil Armstrong responded by switching off the automatic mode and taking direct control. He stopped monitoring the computer and began flying the spacecraft, relying on skill to land it and earning praise for a triumph of human over machine. In Digital Apollo, engineer-historian David Mindell takes this famous moment as a starting point for an exploration of the relationship between humans and computers in the Apollo program. In each of the six Apollo landings, the astronaut in command seized control from the computer and landed with his hand on the stick. Mindell recounts the story of astronauts' desire to control their spacecraft in parallel with the history of the Apollo Guidance Computer. From the early days of aviation through the birth of spaceflight, test pilots and astronauts sought to be more than “spam in a can” despite the automatic controls, digital computers, and software developed by engineers.

Digital Apollo examines the design and execution of each of the six Apollo moon landings, drawing on transcripts and data telemetry from the flights, astronaut interviews, and NASA's extensive archives. Mindell's exploration of how human pilots and automated systems worked together to achieve the ultimate in flight—a lunar landing—traces and reframes the debate over the future of humans and automation in space. The results have implications for any venture in which human roles seem threatened by automated systems, whether it is the work at our desktops or the future of exploration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262134972
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 04/04/2008
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 1,135,713
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David A. Mindell is Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, Professor of Engineering Systems, and Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. He is the author of Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics and War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor.

What People are Saying About This

Bob Seamans

" Digital Apollo takes the reader on a wild ride following the impact of the increasingly complex world of data processing, control,
and display on space flight. The book traces the evolution of man's role aboard high speed aircraft, the hybrid X-15, and ultimately space flight, and the lunar landing.
This book is fascinating history and an important resource for future space explorers." -- Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Former Deputy Administrator, NASA

Howard E. McCurdy

"Mindell's well-written book deals with a terribly important and often overlooked aspect of space age technology. Commentators often present space exploration in the form of a two-sided debate, where advocates of robotics confront advocates of human flight. As Mindell adroitly demonstrates, the engineers who designed the spacecraft that actually flew to the Moon created by necessity a third position, fashioning a practical solution that stood in between the astronaut as automaton and the astronaut as a pilot fully in control. This is a 'must read' book for anyone seriously interested in understanding how space flight really works." --
Howard E. McCurdy, author of Faster, Better,
Cheaper

Charles Simonyi

David Mindell's very important and accessible book precisely dissects Apollo history, proving Apollo a harbinger of our current digital era.

Endorsement

Digital Apollo takes the reader on a wild ride following the impact of the increasingly complex world of data processing, control, and display on space flight. The book traces the evolution of man's role aboard high speed aircraft, the hybrid X-15, and ultimately space flight, and the lunar landing. This book is fascinating history and an important resource for future space explorers.

Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Former Deputy Administrator, NASA

From the Publisher

Digital Apollo is an excellent and unique historical account of the lengthy, and often pitched struggle of designers, engineers, and pilots to successfully integrate man and complex computer systems for the Apollo lunar landings. It brings back fond memories.

Edgar Mitchell, Sc.D.; Captain, USN (retired) Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 14

Mindell's well-written book deals with a terribly important and often overlooked aspect of space age technology. Commentators often present space exploration in the form of a two-sided debate, where advocates of robotics confront advocates of human flight. As Mindell adroitly demonstrates, the engineers who designed the spacecraft that actually flew to the Moon created by necessity a third position, fashioning a practical solution that stood in between the astronaut as automaton and the astronaut as a pilot fully in control. This is a 'must read' book for anyone seriously interested in understanding how space flight really works.

Howard E. McCurdy, author of Faster, Better, Cheaper

David Mindell's very important and accessible book precisely dissects Apollo history, proving Apollo a harbinger of our current digital era.

Charles Simonyi , President and CEO, Intentional Software, and Participant, Soyuz TMA-10 Mission to the International Space Station, April 2007

Digital Apollo takes the reader on a wild ride following the impact of the increasingly complex world of data processing, control, and display on space flight. The book traces the evolution of man's role aboard high speed aircraft, the hybrid X-15, and ultimately space flight, and the lunar landing. This book is fascinating history and an important resource for future space explorers.

Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Former Deputy Administrator, NASA

Robert C. Seamans

Digital Apollo takes the reader on a wild ride following the impact of the increasingly complex world of data processing, control, and display on space flight. The book traces the evolution of man's role aboard high speed aircraft, the hybrid X-15, and ultimately space flight, and the lunar landing. This book is fascinating history and an important resource for future space explorers.

Edgar Mitchell

" Digital Apollo is an excellent and unique historical account of the lengthy, and often pitched struggle of designers, engineers, and pilots to successfully integrate man and complex computer systems for the Apollo lunar landings. It brings back fond memories." -- Edgar Mitchell,
Sc.D.;Captain, USN(retired) Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 14

Customer Reviews

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Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
wpnoel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent book on the development and integration of the flight computer to the Apollo Command Module and the Lunar Module. How it was decided on what roll the astronauts would have on actually flying the Apollo ships.
ALinNY458 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book about a critical element of the moon landing program, the development and integration of computer systems needed to get the command and lunar module to the moon and return safely. Technically knowledgeable readers (software developers) might find the book a bit light on technical content. But for anyone with an interest in the history of computing this book is a real gem.
celephicus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not much to add to ALinNY458's review, but if you _do_ find the book light on technical detail, then you should read "Journey To The Moon: The History of The Apollo Guidance Computer" by Eldon C. Hall, which will give you sufficient grounding to tackle the original NASA documents. The book by Woods "How Apollo Flew To The Moon" skims lightly but informatively over all the other hardware involved in the flights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is more of an essay on the debates that went on regarding how much control astronauts wanted versus MIT and the Instrument Lab wanting more automation. The first half of the book I found extremmely dry and focused on this debate and control schemes in the X-15 and Mercury flights. I understand it was a stepping stone but I really dont care how attitude-hold mode was setup in the X-15. The second half of the book is much more interesting and focuses on the design, construction, and testing of the AGC, the Apollo Guidance Computer. Alot of interesting backroom discussions about how the individual programs were devised, tested and used during the missions, with most of the focus on the actual landings. Not a bad book, especially if your a programmer but if your looking for info on how IMU alignment worked or how water cooled the LM's electronics look elsewhere.
SkyMaster45 More than 1 year ago
This is a fairly interesting look at the design and implementation of the computer systems in the Apollo program. It is not very technical, and I was hoping for some more details and nitty-gritty stuff, but it was informative and overall worth reading.