While scanning the channels looking for an interesting show to watch, I came across a show on the Science channel… “Moon Machines“. I couldn’t have been luckier than to see the chapter “Navigation”. (Update: Full video online here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xxxiij )
I’d heard bits about the technology that went into the Apollo missions, and how there were some of the first “modern” IC-based computers on board, but I never really thought about the implications of what they were doing. Having these computers aboard meant they had software. There wasn’t exactly COTS systems for navigating to the moon.
The episode focused quite a bit on the experience of the software development team, including some at the personal level. There were quotes like “Honey, I’m going to be in charge of developing something called ‘software’.”… (and the response: “Please don’t tell the neighbors.”)
I’ve felt pressure on projects before… stuff I was working on that represented millions of dollars in its success, and presumably millions lost in its failure. I’ve even worked on software projects where runtime production logic errors could send people to jail. I’ve never written software that human life directly depended on.
My hat is off to the folks who took up this monumental challenge for the first time in software history, and made it work. To me, that’s every championship sports victory… ever… combined.
All I can say is… wow.
They knew what a monumental victory it was, too… 40+/- years later, and the engineers they interviewed were still moved by the awe of their own accomplishment, and the personal sacrifices they made to pull it off.
As well they should be. Fantastic!!