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The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture And Operation (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

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The technological marvel that facilitated the Apollo missions to the Moon was the on-board computer. In the 1960s most computers filled an entire room, but the spacecraft's computer was required to be compact and low power. Although people today find it difficult to accept that it was possible to control a spacecraft using such a 'primitive' computer, it nevertheless had c The technological marvel that facilitated the Apollo missions to the Moon was the on-board computer. In the 1960s most computers filled an entire room, but the spacecraft's computer was required to be compact and low power. Although people today find it difficult to accept that it was possible to control a spacecraft using such a 'primitive' computer, it nevertheless had capabilities that are advanced even by today's standards. This is the first book to fully describe the Apollo guidance computer's architecture, instruction format and programs used by the astronauts. As a comprehensive account, it will span the disciplines of computer science, electrical and aerospace engineering. However, it will also be accessible to the 'space enthusiast'. In short, the intention is for this to be the definitive account of the Apollo guidance computer. Frank O'Brien's interest in the Apollo program began as a serious amateur historian. About 12 years ago, he began performing research and writing essays for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, and the Apollo Flight Journal. Much of this work centered on his primary interests, the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) and the Lunar Module. These Journals are generally considered the canonical online reference on the flights to the Moon. He was then asked to assist the curatorial staff in the creation of the Cradle of Aviation Museum, on Long Island, New York, where he helped prepare the Lunar Module simulator, a LM procedure trainer and an Apollo space suit for display. He regularly lectures on the Apollo computer and related topics to diverse groups, from NASA's computer engineering conferences, the IEEE/ACM, computer festivals and university student groups.


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The technological marvel that facilitated the Apollo missions to the Moon was the on-board computer. In the 1960s most computers filled an entire room, but the spacecraft's computer was required to be compact and low power. Although people today find it difficult to accept that it was possible to control a spacecraft using such a 'primitive' computer, it nevertheless had c The technological marvel that facilitated the Apollo missions to the Moon was the on-board computer. In the 1960s most computers filled an entire room, but the spacecraft's computer was required to be compact and low power. Although people today find it difficult to accept that it was possible to control a spacecraft using such a 'primitive' computer, it nevertheless had capabilities that are advanced even by today's standards. This is the first book to fully describe the Apollo guidance computer's architecture, instruction format and programs used by the astronauts. As a comprehensive account, it will span the disciplines of computer science, electrical and aerospace engineering. However, it will also be accessible to the 'space enthusiast'. In short, the intention is for this to be the definitive account of the Apollo guidance computer. Frank O'Brien's interest in the Apollo program began as a serious amateur historian. About 12 years ago, he began performing research and writing essays for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, and the Apollo Flight Journal. Much of this work centered on his primary interests, the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) and the Lunar Module. These Journals are generally considered the canonical online reference on the flights to the Moon. He was then asked to assist the curatorial staff in the creation of the Cradle of Aviation Museum, on Long Island, New York, where he helped prepare the Lunar Module simulator, a LM procedure trainer and an Apollo space suit for display. He regularly lectures on the Apollo computer and related topics to diverse groups, from NASA's computer engineering conferences, the IEEE/ACM, computer festivals and university student groups.

30 review for The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture And Operation (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

  1. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    I thought this book was very disappointing. It is more of an extremely detailed and randomly organized technical manual of Apollo than a look into the actual AGC architecture. The book starts by going into extreme detail into some parts of the AGC instruction set. What is left out is a lot of the general information. There is nothing about the hardware part of the architecture; not even a block diagram. Without a block diagram or any high-level schematics, I cannot understand the basic design of I thought this book was very disappointing. It is more of an extremely detailed and randomly organized technical manual of Apollo than a look into the actual AGC architecture. The book starts by going into extreme detail into some parts of the AGC instruction set. What is left out is a lot of the general information. There is nothing about the hardware part of the architecture; not even a block diagram. Without a block diagram or any high-level schematics, I cannot understand the basic design of the computer. Understanding the nitty-gritty instructions of a computer I don't understand is irrelevant data without an overview of the computer itself. Then the book discusses the Executive and Interpreter functions of the AGC, assuming that all readers have an understanding of how they work. I found myself wondering how the AGC was capable of running customizable programs with such minimal erasable/programmable memory. The author never clearly distinguishes what is saved on the fixed memory (literal ROM), and what is saved in erasable/programmable memory. If I can enter functions into the DSKY, then that implies a type of memory I can rewrite. I know the author is a computer scientist, and not a computer or electrical engineer, but not including any information about computer hardware made this book really hard to follow. The rest of the book delved into technical specifications of Apollo missions, and was maybe only peripherally related to the AGC. I was completely uninterested in that information. I mean, I bought a book called The Apollo Guidance Computer Architecture and Operation, I wanted to read about the computer's architecture, not what thrusters fire at what moment in time in any given Apollo mission. Finally, this book is very disorganized and has an enormous number of typos. The author does not appear to be good at presenting information in a logical manner. This made the book hard to follow at best. I found it to be a disappointing book, and as one of the very few books I actually purchased, a poor choice for me not to have borrowed from a library instead.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Torben Koch

    Very exciting :)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Page

    I’ll begin with the obvious: The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation by Frank O’Brien is not an easy read. But for the reader who comes to this book properly prepared, it is wonderful. The detail is nearly mind-boggling and thus, by properly prepared, I believe that for a reader to fully appreciate the content, they ought to have a significant understanding of computer architecture and operating system design. The Apollo program in its entirety was an enormously, almost unimagin I’ll begin with the obvious: The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation by Frank O’Brien is not an easy read. But for the reader who comes to this book properly prepared, it is wonderful. The detail is nearly mind-boggling and thus, by properly prepared, I believe that for a reader to fully appreciate the content, they ought to have a significant understanding of computer architecture and operating system design. The Apollo program in its entirety was an enormously, almost unimaginably, complex assembly of technologies. Without exaggeration, a major part of the complexity, the heart & soul, was the AGC and the software written to control the mission. Unfortunately, the need for nearly infinite cleverness by the programmers was the result of a self-inflicted wound. The original design specification called for 12-bit addressability and only eight low-level instructions (op codes). To no one’s surprise today (and it shouldn’t have been a surprise in the late 1950s when the Apollo concept began to gel), such a limited architecture with addressability into 4K blocks of 15-bit words, is totally inadequate. In retrospect, it’s apparent that the limitations of the AGC could easily have significantly delayed the moon landing. That it did not, and the techniques developed to overcome the architecture deficiencies, is what this book is all about. O’Brien guides the reader through a microscopic examination of the architecture to the bit level (about 1/3 of the book) and then operating system (Executive & Interpreter) structure & flow (another 1/3), and finally a program-by-program run through of a moon landing mission profile. I’m quite willing to call this book definitive, and the best account for communicating the actual complexity of an Apollo mission. It’s difficult to imagine the effort O’Brien expended in comprehending the arcane intricacies of the AGC architecture & operation, but historians of technology and fans of the Apollo space program will be grateful for his labors.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter Caron

    I guess I never considered the obvious fact that rockets can be steered! This is a tough read but I found it worth the effort. The development of the navigation computers was as much about creative problem solving as it was about technology so, there is relevance for such work even today.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andy Cromer

    Frank O'Brien is a gifted engineer who introduces the Apollo Guidance Computer step by step or should I say register by register. After the core knowledge of the processing system the book switches to an overview of the program sequence and basics to guidance and navigation of the Apollo spacecraft. Overall a great book about the Apollo missions. Frank O'Brien is a gifted engineer who introduces the Apollo Guidance Computer step by step or should I say register by register. After the core knowledge of the processing system the book switches to an overview of the program sequence and basics to guidance and navigation of the Apollo spacecraft. Overall a great book about the Apollo missions.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nikky

    If you've read books like Digital Apollo and wanted more information about the hardware and software that went into the Apollo Guidance Computer, this is the book for you. Thick with nuanced details about the inner workings of the AGC, you'll learn a lot about how a highly resilient and capable system was made in the late 1960s. What you won't learn, however, is the design process or the writing of the software. It reads much like a technical manual for the AGC rather than a detailed history. If you've read books like Digital Apollo and wanted more information about the hardware and software that went into the Apollo Guidance Computer, this is the book for you. Thick with nuanced details about the inner workings of the AGC, you'll learn a lot about how a highly resilient and capable system was made in the late 1960s. What you won't learn, however, is the design process or the writing of the software. It reads much like a technical manual for the AGC rather than a detailed history.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Greg Parrott

    Though at times very dry, and a bit surprising at the number of typos, this book is a must read for engineers of all types. Before there were very many integrated circuit chips floating around, NASA took a gamble on them to meet the size, weight, and power requirements for getting men to the moon and back. Even back in the 1960's, engineers were having to more with less. A situation we still find today when "COGs" is often waved around by the bean counters. Though at times very dry, and a bit surprising at the number of typos, this book is a must read for engineers of all types. Before there were very many integrated circuit chips floating around, NASA took a gamble on them to meet the size, weight, and power requirements for getting men to the moon and back. Even back in the 1960's, engineers were having to more with less. A situation we still find today when "COGs" is often waved around by the bean counters.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Wilson

    Fascinating look, from both a computer engineering and computer science perspective, at the details of the computer that made the moon missions possible. Amazing what the engineers came up with, both working within the constraints of the available technology while also pushing the boundary of technology.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Joseph

    A towering master work on what, admittedly is a fairly niche subject but if you want the real details on the computers that played a vital role in putting humans on the moon then read this. This book is more of a computer science text than a general historical book however, so beware of this.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Neal Aggarwal

    A fantastic trip down memory lane.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Neal W

    Bit esoteric for my taste. While I enjoy a technical read this one went a bit far over my head. Later chapters more of what I hoped for but a little short on analysis

  12. 5 out of 5

    Luca Rossi

  13. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joske Vermeulen

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andriy O-ko

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert Hamilton

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Green

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dirk Nerinckx

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Karlan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Erickson

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

  25. 5 out of 5

    Om

  26. 5 out of 5

    George Loyer

  27. 4 out of 5

    zvold

  28. 4 out of 5

    Giorgi Archuadze

  29. 5 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  30. 4 out of 5

    Colby

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