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Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in…

Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight

by David A. Mindell

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1498126,266 (4.4)1
In each of the six Apollo landings, the astronaunt in command seized control from the computer and landed with his hand on the stick. Here, Mindell recounts the story of these astronauts' desire to control their spacecraft in parallel with the Apollo Guidance Computer, and muses on human-computer interaction.… (more)

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I absolutely loved reading Digital Apollo! I'm an EE professor who teaches a lot of both hardware and (embedded) software, so the subject, while nearly 50 years old, is still very relevant to the types of things that I teach. The human-machine interface, how software can replace hardware as a source of automation, and the implications of replacing an aviator with a "machine" are all still relevant today. You might say that Apollo was the genesis to many of these problems.

Firstly, it's fascinating to read this book if nothing but to learn about how embedded computing was handled 50 years ago. Software development was nowhere near as rigorous as it is today, nor was it taken even a quarter as seriously. Integrated circuit chips were new, and having two NOR gates on a single chip was a big deal. Wires wrapped around magnetic cores were used for memory. Yet, all of the hardware and software limitations of the day successfully landed SIX missions on the Moon, not to mention saved the lives of the astronauts in Apollo 13. I seriously could not get enough, reading about this.

In addition, this book is also about the interplay between the astronauts (mostly the pilots) and the guidance system developers. There were many opinions regarding fully automated landings vs. fully manual landings. The truth is that each of the Apollo landings was somewhere in the grey area in between both extremes. People involved in the Apollo program had no idea how much pilots could even handle for a landing, and if fully manual landings were even possible. To this end, they designed a training machine built to reproduce the LM as much as possible that could be used on Earth. That type of engineering solution to a problem (how can you practice landing on the Moon if you only get one shot to land there?) was really interesting to read about, and isn't discussed in most Apollo literature.

Finally, I got to read more about the actual lunar landings in this book than in any other book I've read about Apollo. They were fascinating, and, tying in with the above paragraph, really highlighted the subtle interplay between human and machine.

This is not an action-packed book about the heyday of Apollo. I loved the book and even I found it slow-going at times. That said, I would not recommend this book if you are not really into the topic at hand. Otherwise, it gets my full seal of approval! ( )
  lemontwist | Aug 2, 2018 |
As mere PC user with very little to no knowledge of the 'inner secrets' and history of data processing, this book was a 'beast' to read.

Even if fascinating, more than much of the content was way over my head, like 'hardwired software' and 'read-only rope memory'.

I also found the 'man vs machine' issue fascinating from todays point of view. Maybe a bit long-haired though.

My guess is that you have to have more than average computer knowledge and interest in the issue to get the full advantage of the book.

In the end I'm sure that those who has those qualifications will have a good and interesting time reading this book.
( )
  JesperCFS2 | Mar 13, 2017 |
Excellent history of the Apollo computer systems and detailed accounts of each moon landing. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
This book was incredible! The chapters on the approach, descent, and landing of the Eagle on the moon (Apollo 11) comprise a gripping tale of the way in which machines and people can cooperate to perform extraordinary things, and, incidentally, demonstrates how the pernicious evil of obscurantism has infected modern writing about technology, by way of actually explaining the computer systems and the engineering challenges that the flight presented. I would give my left arm for books like this to be written about the innumerable other places in modern life where machines are critically important (e.g. the petroleum industry). ( )
  seabear | Jan 7, 2013 |
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. ( )
  wpnoel | Dec 6, 2011 |
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