Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

How NASA Brought the F-1 Rocket Engine Back To Life

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the it's-alive dept.

NASA 221

First time accepted submitter Martin S. writes "How NASA Engineers have reverse engineered the F1 engine of a Saturn V launcher, because: 'every scrap of documentation produced during Project Apollo, including the design documents for the Saturn V and the F-1 engines, remains on file. If re-creating the F-1 engine were simply a matter of cribbing from some 1960s blueprints, NASA would have already done so. A typical design document for something like the F-1, though, was produced under intense deadline pressure and lacked even the barest forms of computerized design aids. Such a document simply cannot tell the entire story of the hardware. Each F-1 engine was uniquely built by hand, and each has its own undocumented quirks. In addition, the design process used in the 1960s was necessarily iterative: engineers would design a component, fabricate it, test it, and see how it performed. Then they would modify the design, build the new version, and test it again. This would continue until the design was "good enough."'

cancel ×

221 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

F1 engine (4, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451505)

Bernie Eccelstone is suing for trademark infringement

iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (5, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451513)

the design process used in the 1960s was necessarily iterative: engineers would design a component, fabricate it, test it, and see how it performed. Then they would modify the design, build the new version, and test it again. This would continue until the design was "good enough."'

take note modern IT managers - this is agile, not that bastardised process-heavy "agile" scrum-style crap you do today.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (4, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451549)

Yes, if one is doing a one off project, or a prototype that will then be given to someone else to redesign, the perhaps this is the a good method. But for production work, that will have to be used by average people in the field, maybe not so much. The saturn V was not production, was only reliable with great effort, and with incredible highly skilled and trained people. It did it's job, but at great expense. Something one does not want to have to deal with when trying to make a profit.

Every IT shop... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451655)

Yes, if one is doing a one off project, or a prototype that will then be given to someone else to redesign, the perhaps this is the a good method.

Every mid to large sized IT shop I've ever seen or worked in (dozens) has basically been a "one-off project" when viewed as a whole. Yes sure, every one is basically built out of off-the-shelf hardware and OSes, but there is so much customization and scripting, customized apps and databases and communication software, and other various "glue" bits holding these microcosms all together, but after you examine the innards of any decent sized IT shop that's been running a while, the place as a whole is actually a giant hodge-podge Rube Goldberg contraption that has evolved and taken final shape over time and iterative development.

We've not building Henry Ford assembly line Model Ts here.

Re:Every IT shop... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452511)

There is no 'final shape'. It is an undulating blob. Eventually the mass of cables becomes so great that a black hole forms, collapsing the entire building in on itself.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (4, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451865)

Don't be brainwashed by all this "process" crap. These days you have to talk to guys in their 60's and 70's to get the full oral history, but they wistfully recall days when the emphasis was on getting things done and making them work, rather than mindlessly following "process". There were always procedures and so forth to keep documentation straight, but it was a means to an end instead of an end in itself. These days you get more brownie points for following process than you do for making things work. "Process" should be a way to get things done, not a fetish.

Nor was everything simple in the old days. For example, the B-29 project was hideously complex. If they'd injected modern "process" instead of making it work and writing ECO's, everyone west of the Mississippi would probably be speaking Japanese now.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452055)

"everyone west of the Mississippi would probably be speaking Japanese now"

Doubt it.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (4, Informative)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452435)

Actually, I don't know what this article is smoking. If you talk to guys in their 70's and 80's, you'll find that the Apollo program was a triumph of the "process" mentality. Mercury was a series of poorly-documented one-offs, but that was OK because all the work was done in one place by a small team of people. Anyone who got confused could just yell across the room at whomever and get a quick explanation before they screwed something up. Apollo, with design and manufacturing spread across multiple areas around the country, could not afford that.

In fact, many of the hated design processes these days were actually invented by the Apollo program. They were the brainchild of Gen. Sam Phillips, who was brought in to NASA after the spectacular failures of the Pioneer and Surveyor programs. He had learned process management while leading the Air Force's Minuteman ICBM program, and it was he who dragged the NASA engineers, kicking and screaming, into a world where they had to actually document everything they did. He even wrote a memo a year before the Apollo 1 fire predicting the extreme dangers of the seat-of-the-pants approach Apollo had previously been taking.

A perfect counterexample to Apollo's process system was the European Launcher Development Organization's [wikipedia.org] failed Europa rocket. With six nations contributing engineering work to the rocket and no centralized direction, failure was inevitable.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (3, Insightful)

MetaPhyzx (212830) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452127)

The saturn V was not production, was only reliable with great effort, and with incredible highly skilled and trained people.

I agree with the majority of this sentence, save for the first section.

The Saturn V was launched ten times as part of a mission, which would make them all "production". That's a total of fifty F1 engines (5 per each first stage). If I'm not mistaken, two unmanned tests were scheduled; I cannot remember if it was tested on those after the engine became flight rated. With a usage window for the engine in production from 1968 to 1973 (Skylab).

I believe the OP was referring to the process to get the engine flight rated with all the nuances noted, which means his initial heads up to the managers of today accurate.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (3, Insightful)

Hythlodaeus (411441) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452155)

I one read an overview of the CMM levels, and what struck me was this:

At level one, it doesn't say the organization is hopeless, doomed to failure, it says "success depends on the skills of exceptional individuals"

The rest of the levels are built on a fantasy it could be otherwise.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451557)

Yeah, except that whole "document" part was done so you could iterate the design, it cost a billion dollars, was literally a "moon shot" and they tested in a live environment every time. It was a hit or miss affair [youtube.com] .

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (2)

rioki (1328185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451651)

That is what you call continuous integration and test first. But what else should they have done, there is so much you can do on paper. Only in the last two decades are we in the position where we can reliably "test" without ever building something physical and even there only on a limited scope. But even there, the effort put into building a digital model is similar in effort than a physical one. The only part you save are the actual resources and maybe an explosion or two.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451587)

take note modern IT managers - this is agile, not that bastardised process-heavy "agile" scrum-style crap you do today.

Hmm, a process that was bloody expensive as hell, and created 65 unique, poorly documented builds that haven't been used in the last forty years. Finance is going to love that.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (4, Funny)

some old guy (674482) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452105)

65 unique, poorly-documented builds?

Sounds like a typical SAP migration to me.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451721)

What are you ranting for?

The article is a perfect example of what's wrong with that form of agile... lack of documentation.

If you think (rapid) development is the be-all-end-all of IT you probably consistantly fail to create practical product i.e. a program that is desirable, useful, useable, stable... and a host of other examples of why writing code as quick as you can is a bad idea.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451761)

me again, just to add...

Yes, they got us to the moon... once. 40+ years ago.

Perhaps had they taken a more documented approach we wouldn't need to spend resources now replicating they're work.

(This is by no means a slur on NASA, they had unique circumstances, near unlimited funding and pressing need to launch)

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (1)

JockTroll (996521) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452399)

Actually they got to the Moon 9 times - Apollo 8 and 10 did arrive at the Moon as did 13, which didn't get land but circled the Moon. The Saturn V was already "long in the tooth" then and plans were underway for the next-generation, finless Saturn and the more powerful Nova missile. Then the program was canceled and there was no need for gigantic kerolox rocket engines anymore. There was no pressure to retain the design, and a good lot of the designers are now dead. You would be surprised at how much stuff becomes difficult to rebuild once the know-how is lost. But of course you're a loserboy nerd who understands nothing about the "science" and "technology" you stuff your foul-smelling mouth with. Consider your face being shit upon.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452439)

Um, we went to the Moon nine times. Six missions resulted in manned landings on the Moon surface, one attempt resulted in an abort (Apollo 13) and merely went around the Moon.

All of these, IIRC, used the Saturn V.

You, know whoever you are, you are wasting your meager talents here. You should be writing for HuffPo. Or Slate.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452563)

A correction, Apollo 7 used a Saturn IB, for an orbital mission, no LM. This was the only Moon mission not to use a Saturn V.

The Saturn V launched 13 times, all successful.

Sheesh.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (2, Interesting)

CAIMLAS (41445) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451765)

You know, we used to call it simply, "engineering" - back before business school type managers stuck their dicks into the soup and soured the pot for everyone.

Re:iterative dev, no docs, took us to the moon... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452567)

It was engineering, motivated by that old tactic of, "We're under attack!", during the cold war.

Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1, Informative)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451515)

This flies in the face of at least history. It also flies in the face of the usual mythology that NASA invented the computer. Which is it?

They had no computers, or they invented them?

It's neither, actually. But by 1963 manufacturing, at least for the money-means-nothing military, was already computerized.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=_1g1b_EeVHw&NR=1 [youtube.com]

Why do you think it's called "numerically controlled" and not "digital"? It's because the whole concept is so old that the wording has had time to become obsolete.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (2)

rioki (1328185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451603)

I think the article and summary refer to the engineering process. In the 60s you did not have CAD applications. Sure they had computers, on the ship, on the ground and all, but not in the engineering department. Engineers where able to make technical drawings and hand that of to workers building the actual thing. Oh yea and they assisted and oversaw the work done, to correct any misunderstandings. It worked, why add computers.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1, Troll)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451631)

They had CAD applications, just not what you think as CAD. Anyways, this is interesting, because when do you think CAD applications started? Did the whole thing just pop into existence fully formed, or were there intermediary steps?

Just on the electronics side, look at something like SPICE. It didn't pop into existence with a GUI on a personal computer, it started as a punch-card reading batch application on a mainframe. Boom, computer aided design.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

SpzToid (869795) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451863)

This is true. Although I am bit too you to remember it. I do recall the black and white vector CAD monitors, and that damn strobing lightpen that we had to tap the glass of the monitor with. Talk about bleeding eyes.

I also remember the thrill when the software went from mainframes, to run on x286 PCs, and it was fast too!

SPICE [Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids...] (4, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451993)

They had CAD applications, just not what you think as CAD. Anyways, this is interesting, because when do you think CAD applications started? Did the whole thing just pop into existence fully formed, or were there intermediary steps? Just on the electronics side, look at something like SPICE. It didn't pop into existence with a GUI on a personal computer, it started as a punch-card reading batch application on a mainframe.

SPICE dates to 1972. The Saturn V had been designed, built, flown, and out of production for years by the time SPICE was released to the public.

To be fair, SPICE derived from CANCER ("Computer Analysis of Nonlinear Circuits, Excluding Radiation"). But that was also not released to the public ready until the early 70s (the paper describing it was dated 1971: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1050166 [ieee.org] )

Boom, computer aided design.

"Boom," just in time to be ten years too late to be used in the Apollo program.

Re:SPICE [Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids... (-1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452081)

SPICE was a combination of earlier programs... So, you think they didn't use computers to solve numerical problems in 60s? Problems related to design? Is this what you are claiming?

ECAP is older, but no CAD for Saturn V (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452217)

The Saturn V was designed with paper and slide rules, and very little computer work.

As far as circuit simulation goes, ECAP is probably the first full circuit simulator. I have a copy of the manual for the 1620 version, but it's dated 1970, but there are earlier versions. All written in FORTRAN. I'll bet that almost no computer simulation was done for the electronics on the Saturn V.

For thermal and mechanical FEM analysis, NASTRAN started in 1964 and was delivered in 1968 Not used for Apollo, but used for Shuttle.

Drafting wise, Sutherland's Sketchpad was in 1963, and was pretty much the first "drawing" tool on a computer, and it used custom hardware, and was hardly usable for actual drafting.There were some specialized tools for splines and such in the car industry, but "real" drafting on a computer probably didn't exist until the 70s. (Drafting or Technical Drawing was still a course you took in high school in the mid-70s.)

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (5, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451699)

Compared to what we were doing at NASA in the 90s - much less by today's standards - the 60s really were lacking in the barest of computer aids. In hindsight, the assistance of computers was amazingly rudimentary. The ability to do structural analysis was being built "as they needed it" and independently in each group or center - NASTRAN, even in its earliest state, didn't exist yet. These are the people who started developing tools which didn't exist.

You have to remember - this was a time when Battin was using discrete math to plan missions, and a general n-body problem was considered unsolvable (and, afaik, still is in explicit form - but is trivial on modern computers for relevant values of n).

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451791)

Fair enough. But do you really think the amount of computers NASA was using counts as "barest"? Just look at the amount of 360s they were using.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (4, Informative)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451811)

I have a news flash for you, young man. Numerical solutions, on computers, for the n body problem were being done in the 1950s, S. von Horner being a notable person in the field.

Yes, analytical math can be used to plan orbits, even done today for first passes. my senior year physics project was orbital calculations by both numerical and multi-variate calculus. No reason what I did couldn't be done on say an IBM 701 or 7000 in the 50s...

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451979)

So they did the design work of the Saturn V engines on computers a decade later?

Fat fucking chance.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (-1, Troll)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452035)

Um, from wiki:

"For the Apollo space mission, NASA required a portable, self-contained drill capable of extracting core samples from below the lunar surface. Black & Decker was tasked with the job, and developed a computer program to optimize the design of the drill’s motor and ensure minimal power consumption. That computer program led to the development of a cordless miniature vacuum cleaner called the Dustbuster.[14]"

So Black and Decker were able to use computers to design a small permanent magnet motor, but NASA itself was using what for the F-1? Was NASA ordering envelopes by the carton for their back-of-the-envelope calculations?

This also shows that all NASA did was spread money around to let companies create without having to make a profit in the next quarter. We didn't actually have to go to the Moon to make these motors. All the technology was already there before, all you needed was a bit of money to spread around. Nothing like a grandiose government funded stunt to help that along.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

beltsbear (2489652) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452161)

"So Black and Decker were able to use computers to design a small permanent magnet motor, but NASA itself was using what for the F-1? Was NASA ordering envelopes by the carton for their back-of-the-envelope calculations?

Yes.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (0)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452193)

Oh. My. God.

So they were able to use computers in the spacecraft to crunch numbers, just not on the Earth?

http://history.nasa.gov/computers/Ch1-2.html [nasa.gov]

http://history.nasa.gov/computers/contents.html [nasa.gov]

But adding a few numbers together to help along a design, that never happened? The military was happily using computers to help design parts for the B-58, but NASA was running around with crates of envelopes from Staples?

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (4, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451703)

This flies in the face of at least history. It also flies in the face of the usual mythology that NASA invented the computer. Which is it?

I never heard that myth. But NASA and its contractors were pioneers in some CAD tech, like FEM (finite element modelling), and the computers for Apollo spacecraft designed at MIT/Lincoln labs were marvels of miniaturization for their day.

But by 1963 manufacturing, at least for the money-means-nothing military, was already computerized.

Maybe a tiny amount of it. Don't confuse NC (numerically controlled) with CNC (computer numerically controlled). NC was developed largely in the late 40's and was widely used by the 50's. It used relay logic and so forth. CNC was too expensive until "inexpensive" minicomputers came along later in the 60's, and didn't take off until micros came along in the 70's. The video probably shows a futuristic "we tried it who cares what it costs" type of setup, like Doug Engelbart's WIMP interfaces in the 60's. Good forward looking stuff, but not necessarily ubiquitous, even for NASA.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451777)

That myth only pops up with a certain subset of people who are utterly convinced that NASA spinoffs include computers and ICs. Even though it's trivial to show that these things existed before and independently of NASA.

"The video probably shows a futuristic "we tried it who cares what it costs""

It is very long, yes, but they show actual parts being designed and built for the B-58 bomber. Besides, wasn't the whole Moon landing a "we tried it and who cares what it costs" type of exercise as well?

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452021)

That myth only pops up with a certain subset of people who are utterly convinced that NASA spinoffs include computers and ICs.

No, it pops up with two groups: an incredibly small subset of pro-space people who don't know what NASA actually did, and a larger set of people who try to build the first group up into a straw man larger than the actual group. These days, I don't remember the last time I saw someone who actually from the former group, but it seems like every other story involving manned space exploration has someone in the latter group, "preemptively" trying to argue against a group that isn't there or too small to be noticed. Heck, I remember someone not too long ago trolling with a fake post to emulate some one from the first group and then being surprised they got called out for being stupid for what they said.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452023)

The myth only pops up with a certain subset of people who are utterly convinced that NASA spinoffs include computers and ICs.

I'll give you that. I've heard the same sort of ignorant worship for many things.

wasn't the whole Moon landing a "we tried it and who cares what it costs" type of exercise as well?

ii Sure it was, but I'm skeptical of NASA using much CNC. It was very rare then and NASA's focus was on going to the moon, not developing manufacturing techniques that were not essential to that effort. NC may be another story, and already widely used. With few exceptions, CNC (and even NC) are more about doing things cheaper than about doing things you can't do by hand. For a handful of units, who cares.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452371)

Yes, it amazes me that the same people who go around spreading all kinds of myths about NASA inventing every technology on Earth are able to turn around on a quark and say we went to the Moon with the barest of technologies.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451705)

whoooosh.
do you even understand what CAD stands for?

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451737)

Computer assisted design. Do you understand that when you ask a computer to add numbers for a design, it's computer assisted design? Do you think that they didn't have any of that in the '60s?

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451879)

Do you think they saved those "CAD" files of numbers being added together? Do you think those lists of numbers to be added together would be considered useful to an operator running Pro/Engineer?

Lacking the barest of computer aids seems like a reasonable summary.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451953)

What does saving files have to do with anything? What do you think Pro/e does internally except process lists of numbers added together? What do you think a CPU does basically? They had 32 bit mainframes in the '60s, you know. They could process lists of numbers and then use them as part of a fabrication process. Would you like me to link you to early videos of automated IC place and routing? And the resulting layout being plotted on a giant plotter before being photoshrunk for the IC fab process? That's the 1960s at *university* level, never mind "money no object government contracts".

Go read some Sideris books. What they were doing the '60s counts as computer aided design. It was all there. Put in the hands of much more competent people than today.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451967)

Most people on here don't know that in the late 1800's a 'computer' was typically a person.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452279)

So, everybody that's ever used a calculator to design something qualifies for "computer aided design"? I don't think adding numbers is the minimum, or even close to the minimum for CAD. I used excel to calculate the costs and keep track of the lengths of wood needed for a treehouse. It still isn't a CAD treehouse.

When you think of CAD, no one thinks of what they used to design the F1 engines. Were computers used? Absolutely. Were computers used in a capacity to qualify this as a computer aided design? Not even close.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452427)

"So, everybody that's ever used a calculator to design something qualifies for "computer aided design"?"

When no one else had calculators, yes.

"I don't think adding numbers is the minimum, or even close to the minimum for CAD. "

Then what is? Why were computers developed before they had color displays and stereo sound? Did companies do their payroll on computers for the kicks? For the sound the printer made? What else than to add numbers?

"When you think of CAD, no one thinks of what they used to design the F1 engines. Were computers used? Absolutely. Were computers used in a capacity to qualify this as a computer aided design? Not even close."

Then what else for? Send company wide emails about the company lunch? Early computers did nothing ELSE but numerical stuff.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451801)

I never heard the myth about NASA inventing the computer. And I've heard a LOT of myths about computers and space. I'm not saying the myth doesn't exist, but if it does chances are it's a very rarely said one.

As for "lacked even the barest forms of computerized design aids" perhaps they just mean that the design lacked the creation / use of them. Not that there were no aids available for them had they chosen to use them.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451903)

I've only heard that myth a few times myself but when I did I thought I was in a Twilight Zone episode. The usual conclusion to the myth is that since going to the Moon included computers as a spinoff, we should go to the Moon again because who knows what spinoffs will come from it?

History shows it was a mix of mathematics, war and business, industrial and scientific needs that drove computer development. Banks were among the earliest commercial users of computers. Maybe we should open a few more banks and see what kind of computers they order?

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452181)

Heck, I recall being told that in the 1940's they used a computer for the Census and that was way prior to the push to the moon.

I could see that the push to the moon ADVANCED the computers of the era but definitely didn't create them. Like perhaps a bump in power / clock-speed / utility / etc. Or new architecture or just new ways of thinking. I don't know if that actually happened but it's a valid assumption.

In which case, the general theme of "another moon trip == new advancements" still holds.

Heck, that's a common argument for a lot of big suggested ventures. That the end-product would be more than the trip or widget... the advancements made to actually accomplish said task would be quite interesting. Mars trip, space elevator, another Moon trip, etc. That the fact we got there or built the thing would be "nice" but just doing it would advance our tech in various directions.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452383)

"I could see that the push to the moon ADVANCED the computers of the era"

Sure, and so did every bank or business buying a computer to do payroll.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (2)

LizardKing (5245) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452223)

Banks were among the earliest commercial users of computers.

And tea shops [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (5, Interesting)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451909)

This flies in the face of at least history. It also flies in the face of the usual mythology that NASA invented the computer. Which is it?

NASA didn't invent the computer. However, in the 1950s computers were room-sized assemblies of hardware. NASA and the Air Force were the only two entities that needed computers that were smaller than that (the Air Force to put in missiles, NASA to put in spacecraft). The Block I Apollo computer was the driver for integrated circuits, and hence the grandfather of all of today's desktop computers (called "microcomputers" back in the old days, when "non-micro" computers meant the Univacs and 1103 and the other big iron of the day.
http://www.computerhistory.org/semiconductor/timeline/1962-Apollo.html [computerhistory.org]

They had no computers, or they invented them?

Both.

It's neither, actually. But by 1963 manufacturing, at least for the money-means-nothing military, was already computerized.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=_1g1b_EeVHw&NR=1 [youtube.com]
Why do you think it's called "numerically controlled" and not "digital"? It's because the whole concept is so old that the wording has had time to become obsolete.

The comment you're responding to was about computer design tools--CAD--not about numerically-controlled milling machines. And for that matter, the numerically-controlled milling machines of 1963 weren't really what you would call general purpose computers.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451983)

They needed them smaller, but banks and businesses needed them cheaper and more reliable. How can NASA be a "driver" for ICs when they were using generic commercial ICs????

The comment you're responding to was about computer design tools--CAD--not about numerically-controlled milling machines."

They designed the parts on computers. They fabricated the parts as part of a computer-driven process. And that comment about the F-1 being hand built... I got news for you kids, how do you think jet turbines are built these days? By hand, one by one.

Re:Lacked the barest of computer aids? (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452115)

... by 1963 manufacturing, at least for the money-means-nothing military, was already computerized.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=_1g1b_EeVHw&NR=1 [youtube.com]

Unfortunate choice of future technologies to demonstrate, at 4:00 min into the video the V-22 Osprey is shown.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1g1b_EeVHwM#t=3m57 [youtube.com] starts at that point.

...The V-22's development budget was first planned for $2.5 billion in 1986, then increased to a projected $30 billion in 1988....
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-22_Osprey#Controversy [wikipedia.org]

A fine design (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451523)

A fine design, but it wasn't good enough to get a FIRST POST

Re:A fine design (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451597)

YEW FAIL ET

Kind of like.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451525)

So, kind of like how slashdot is developed?

Agile Developement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451539)

Sounds like my engineers in Kerbal Space Program. But instead of having massive failures where the whole rocket explodes, they have more controlled ones.

Mentioned this last week (5, Interesting)

T.E.D. (34228) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451643)

I mentioned this in a comment last week [slashdot.org] . Manned spaceflight in the USA is essentially a matter of history, not something we know how to do today. If we wanted (for whatever reason) to go back to the moon, we'd bascially have to start over from scratch. It would probably take as at least as long as the original Apollo program, and cost far more.

After the fall of the Roman empire, knowledge of concrete was lost, and for about 500 years Europeans were walking around Roman buildings and upon Roman roads that they had no idea how to recreate. Right now all our Apollo engineers are dead or dying, and the Astronauts will soon follow suit. Soon there will be no living human who has set foot on another world. Then we will know just how those Medieval Europeans felt when we go look at our old Apollo relics in the museums.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451663)

Why would we not just put people in a dragon capsule? If we really cared about having a sack of mostly water on site.

Why would we go to the moon? Why not send robots?
It seems pointless to send humans to do something a machine can do better.

Re:Mentioned this last week (5, Insightful)

Aqualung812 (959532) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451735)

Our God-given curiosity will force us to go there ourselves because in the final analysis, only man can fully evaluate the moon in terms understandable to other men.
-Gus Grissom

This was also proven in several instances where manual human intervention saved a mission when automated systems failed.

Before you counter, yes, there were also man-made mistakes that caused problems during a mission. (Example Lovell's mistake in Apollo 8, which he manually corrected, and then used the skill on Apollo 13 when he didn't make a mistake).

I'd also agree that sending the Mars automated rovers were the best first step, rather than jumping right to a manned landing.

I think the thing we must accept is that both manned and unmanned missions are useful and different in their abilities & goals. Calling one "better" is over-simplifying.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451991)

Robots are cheaper, send more of them to do different tasks.

So far PR is the only reason I have ever seen for sending humans.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Aqualung812 (959532) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452095)

Robots can only do the tasks we imagined they would need to do when we get there.

Humans can use their imagination to change what they do based off of the new information received.

In addition, the technology of getting off this rock is a worthwhile pursuit. As Dr. Hawking pointed out recently, we have to get off this planet & colonize somewhere else to increase our chances of survival.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452119)

Supporting humans costs and arm and a leg.

Without the ability to survive at that location there is no value gained in going there. If you are still stuck waiting on supplies from Earth there is no survivability gained.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452535)

I have to agree. If I wanted to plan for the long road of human survival off-earth I'd focus first on figuring out terraforming, or operating sealed self-supporting environments (something that you can do just fine on the ground on Earth).

Once you can create completely self-sufficient and reliable environments with nothing but solar power input, then you can talk about sticking those up in space. I see no reason to stick those down on some planet at the bottom of yet another gravity well - just stick them in space. If you spot a killer comet headed your way, just expend a few grams of propellant and nudge your orbit out of the way instead of trying to move something the size of Mount Everest halfway across the solar system. If you need materials send a probe to some asteroid or comet or just move your entire habitat there - they're made out of the same stuff as the planets anyway.

Before sending people out in space, give them someplace useful to go to...

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

powerlord (28156) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452625)

So go use robots and other more automated vehicles to create the means necessary for human survival.

For instance, send a robot to Mars ahead of future human exploration and set up a habitat, start making oxygen, water, and foodstuffs.

No need to wait till we get there to start terraforming/colonizing a small piece.

Re:Mentioned this last week (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452091)

This was also proven in several instances where manual human intervention saved a mission when automated systems failed.

As technology marches on though, wouldn't the frequency of needing such a fix drop? And how many of those interventions were to save things related to life support or things that wouldn't be necessary without the crew?

Of course we can't build a perfect space craft yet and there will still be problems for time to come, and some of those may be fixable by a human if it were a manned flight. But how many times more expensive will the manned option be than the automated option? At some point, it is a lot cheaper and more productive with resources to build something that might or does fail, and then just send a patched second (or third, or forth one) then trying to build one that can be repaired in situ.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452113)

several instances where manual human intervention saved a mission when automated systems failed

Sure, they used the shuttle to put spectacles on Hubble but only because they already had the shuttle. Do the overall economics make sense? Unmanned missions are so much cheaper that you can just send another if the first fails. A bit embarrassing but no dead astronauts.

I'd also agree that sending the Mars automated rovers were the best first step, rather than jumping right to a manned landing.

For a fraction the price of a manned mission, we could send fleets of ever more advanced rovers. Probably even bring samples back to Earth. And go to even more interesting places, like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452139)

Our God-given curiosity will force us to go there ourselves because in the final analysis, only man can fully evaluate the moon in terms understandable to other men. -Gus Grissom

Gus was biased by his desire to go there personally. I don't blame him, but he wasn't planning to buy his own ticket. He also said that back when robots were incredibly primitive.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452173)

Another example where "forget those fragile humans" makes sense, and has been used without many tears shed, is extremely deep ocean research. If you wanna look a few miles under the sea, forget bathyscaphes and ultra-deep submersibles, and just send a "fish". I don't think anyone considers doing otherwise these days, even though men once visited the bottom of the Marianas trench.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Aqualung812 (959532) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452227)

Don't underestimate lag time.

An HD camera that is sending real-time video back on a ROV that is being controlled by a human in real-time is a far cry from the long delays of planet to planet communication.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452459)

Hence why our Mars rovers have progressively greater amounts of automatic navigation functions (some being uploaded years into operation). The lag doesn't matter so much if the robot can get from point A to point B all by itself. The humans just have to decide where to send it and what to look at when it gets there. They are even working on autonomous geologist programs designed to identify interesting rocks and photograph them without human intervention. Robots will only get smarter. Humans need just as much food, water, and air as they ever will.

A machine isn't always better. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451741)

It is not yet possible for a machine to repair itself - once it is damaged, it is permanent, nothing to fix it.

A man on site could repair that machine, even if it took wire and duct tape - it would work long enough to get a job done.

A machine (at least ALL current machines) have very poor eyesight. A person looking at a scene can identify events that machines overlook. They get curious and make a closer look. A machine that has to be scheduled to look takes so long to get scheduled that the closer look itself is overlooked.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Scutter (18425) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451755)

>It seems pointless to send humans to do something a machine can do better.

Because PR. People can relate to a human stepping foot on the Moon/Mars/Asteroid/etc. and get excited about it. Excited people will want to spend more money doing it. It's good for the whole program. Now, whether that is worth the extra expense is obvious up for debate, but you can't deny that there is a benefit to having a human go to these places.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452111)

It seems pointless to send humans to do something a machine can do better.

Cheaper, but far from better. We've learned a lot from the Mars rovers for example, but in all the years they've been driving around up there, a geologist on-site could have learned more about the planet in a weekend of study there.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452145)

Cheaper is often better. That means we can actually afford to do it.

I doubt that geoligist would agree, and even if he did it would cost more to land him there than we spent on exploring mars so far. Nevermind the cost of keeping him alive for the weekend, no returning him.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451719)

It just goes to show that putting people on the Moon isn't even as useful as a Roman road. You could at least walk on them, and have other people walk to them so you could show them. Going to the Moon was more about creating a mythology. This is why you can never get rid of the idea like you can get rid of old computers or steam engines. Going to the Moon is less about anything concrete, it's more of an ideal.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452351)

That's if you limit your definition of "knowledge gained" to JUST what was discovered on the trip itself!

What about all the knowledge gained by figuring out how to do it? That's where the real gains came from.

We really are in the "corporate era" aren't we? We believe as a society right now that nothing is worth knowing unless there are immediate financial gains involved. It's not healthy. Eventually there won't be any platform of new fundamental science to grow the "practical" stuff from, so it's self defeating even by when looked at a narrow corporatist perspective.

Re:Mentioned this last week (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451785)

Concrete was a useful technology. I'm not sure that's true of manned space flight. For a fraction of the money you can send a robot.

As someone who grew up as an enthusiastic proto-nerd on the Gemini and Apollo programs, I hate to say that. I still feel privileged that I lived at the time in history where I could watch the first man walk on the moon. But amongst the things we learned is that manned space flight is hideously expensive, and our robots have gotten a lot better since then too.

Re:Mentioned this last week (3, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452179)

Concrete was a useful technology. I'm not sure that's true of manned space flight. For a fraction of the money you can send a robot.

Sure, a robot is cheaper, but you get what you pay for. Steve Squyres (you know him, he's the guy in charge of Spirit and Opportunity) once noted that what the rovers had accomplished in five years could have been done by humans in a mere five days. (In fact, the total mileage covered by both rovers is less than one days traverse by one of the lunar rovers.) Robots are great when you want to mindlessly collect great heaping mounds of the same data, day after day... But at anything much more than that, they're still far inferior to people. (Which is why all three rovers to date aren't actually robots - they're teleoperated.) And there's nothing on the horizon to think that'll change anytime soon.

Re:Mentioned this last week (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451985)

You said "start over from scratch". Something you're missing is that re-engineering is much simpler; it has been done already towit to go to the moon build a saturn V, a LEM an Apollo capsule. That's why pukey little countries like the DPRK and Iran can build 'The BOMB" when there's noone in the entire country with half the brains of a Robert Oppenheimer.
Didn't that Elon Musk thing register with you? Space X does what the Gemini program does for a fraction of the cost.

Re:Mentioned this last week (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452087)

I mentioned this in a comment last week. Manned spaceflight in the USA is essentially a matter of history, not something we know how to do today. If we wanted (for whatever reason) to go back to the moon, we'd bascially have to start over from scratch.

Except - this story reveals your claim to be bullshit. We have (literally) tons of documentation on how they did it, and that's just the beginning...
 

After the fall of the Roman empire, knowledge of concrete was lost, and for about 500 years Europeans were walking around Roman buildings and upon Roman roads that they had no idea how to recreate. Right now all our Apollo engineers are dead or dying, and the Astronauts will soon follow suit. Soon there will be no living human who has set foot on another world. Then we will know just how those Medieval Europeans felt when we go look at our old Apollo relics in the museums.

In some fantasy world where we had stopped rocketry and spaceflight development and operations... you'd be right. But here in the real world, we're still flying rockets, we're still developing engines, and electronics, and materials, and... well... pretty much everything required for a moon flight. (In fact, there's a lot of Apollo components that will never see the light of day again because they're obsolete... long since replaced with something better.)
 
One might as well complain about how nobody has built a Wright Flyer in over a century and how everyone who ever designed of flew one is dead.
 
(Seriously, how does drivel like this get modded "Insightful", when it's clueless bilge?)

Why?!? (1)

porcinist (1847634) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451727)

Just because we don't understand how the F-1 engines were built, doesn't mean we do not understand how rocket engines are built. Why is NASA trying to reverse engineer an engine that was designed without modern computer aided design and without access to modern materials? Do they really think those engines were perfect and you can't possibly do any better? No, they seem to think they will "save money" by using the old design. How can it be easier to try and reverse engineer all the design requirements from an existing engine than to create a new design where you know the design requirements? This philosophy is why big aerospace is having such massive problems. This is why SpaceX has delivered supplies to the ISS twice, while the Antares rocket (Orbital Science Corporation) is still sitting on the ground. SpaceX designed their rockets from scratch, while OSC is using rockets designed in the 1960s.

Re:Why?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451793)

Or because Orbital started over a year later with half the government seed money for the rocket ????

Re:Why?!? (3, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451799)

They explain why, so that the engineers can get an understanding of large liquid fueled rockets. Understanding the latest attempt seems to be a reasonable step before designing the next one. Also, since they have an engine with known qualities and are building a computer model of it, this will verify that the model simulation is basically correct. If it does not predict known facts (unstable exhaust gas without baffles, expected thrust, etc.) then they cannot trust the simulation on new designs.

Re:Why?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451815)

I wouldn't knock Orbitalthey were the first nuspace company before nuspace was nuspace. They built their own launch vehicle to launch satellites because there were none of the Government derived vehicles available that met their needs long before it was "cool".

Zomg! (4, Funny)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451747)

The biggest engines we could buy for our model rockets was the D. This F is awesome!

And it's just the F1 !

You can buy up to a "G-80" nowadays.... (1)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452601)

, and if you pass a certification test, commercial motors up to an O-8000 are available if you have the cash:

http://www.pro38.com/products/pro150/motor.php [pro38.com]

Model rocketry has come a LONG way since cardboard Estes rockets in the schoolyard....

Best it was on paper, not computers (4, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451749)

A typical design document for something like the F-1, though, was produced under intense deadline pressure and lacked even the barest forms of computerized design aids.

Thank goodness for that. People still know how to read paper drawings. If it was computerized, we might be able to read the media if it survived (1/2" mag tape or punch cards) but would probably have to spend a lot of time reverse engineering obsolete CAD formats.

Re:Best it was on paper, not computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43452203)

i guess you didn't read the part, in either the article or the summary, where the paper drawings were basically useless also.

if it were as simple as recreating the engine from the drawings they wouldn't have to go through all this effort.

Re:Best it was on paper, not computers (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452273)

There is much truth here. I remember when my advisor in grad school pointed out that we have stone tablets from a few thousand BC which we can read today, but he has tapes up on a shelf that he couldn't read without essentially re-engineering the systems used to create them.

And how is this different than the F-35 JSF progra (1, Insightful)

PortHaven (242123) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451753)

We constantly test, and call it good enough. The difference is the fighter is going to cost more than the Saturn missions...go figure.

Re:And how is this different than the F-35 JSF pro (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452361)

We constantly test, and call it good enough. The difference is the fighter is going to cost more than the Saturn missions...go figure.

Well, there is no doubt a ton of waste in the fighter programs, but do consider that the Saturn V did not have to deal with people trying to shoot it down, only had a run of a dozen or two units, and each unit only had to work one time on a single day, only spending a few days outdoors. That means that you could have a complex series of tests/checks/etc that all take place up until launch which are good for only that one launch. You can't exactly design an F-35 so that you need to reassemble the thing from components before every mission, or dictate that if it is a rainy day you'll just postpone the mission until the next day, or that the fighter would throttle up the engines exactly once, slowly reduce thrust as fuel is burned off, shut them off, and never use them again.

Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451767)

This reads to me like We have no idea how these rockets work, his secrets lost in a sea of details. The result a non repeteable prototype. We cant build another one wihout reinventing it.

This is amazing (2)

RabidMonkey (30447) | about a year and a half ago | (#43451837)

These are the types of Articles I still come to Slashdot for ... and for the comments, which have (sadly) diminished in quantity in the last decade. Amazing engineering work, amazing science.

Time to watch Apollo 13 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43451867)

I have the biggest space boner right now.

Some things are far easier now--computers help (1)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452215)

Hello,

    Some people are claiming that all spaceflight knowledge in this country has been lost and it would cost far more (in constant dollars?) to re-do what was done in the 60's to get us to the moon. I'm not so sure.

    I'm working in an engineering field (not rocket science) which was dominated by experimentation/prototyping when it was "hot" (WWII and shortly thereafter). Giant teams of people (100s or more) would be doing what our very small team is today (3-ish).

    Granted, we have their shoulders to stand on, but instead of doing a WHOLE LOT of prototypes, we run supercomputer simulations and "try out" thousands of designs. And when we build them, they work--the first time.

    I would say we re-do (sort of, actually we're pushing today's technological boundaries) the equivalent of what our fathers and grandfathers had done, faster, cheaper, better, and with stupider, less-skilled people (I'm including myself) --because we have better tools to extend our minds and bodies with today.

    So I am not so sure that re-engineering the Apollo program would cost anything like the original development program. I think it would depend on what kind of modeling tools and other tech developments are available now that didn't exist then.

    What's more, we're currently executing what I would call an "archaeology" project, reviving a 40-year-old design. The existing documentation is lacking, but it's still helping us a lot--we'll probably get this thing built for 1/10th the cost "back when" thanks to what our ancestors have left us and thanks to the tools we have today. And we might even build it better than they could ever have done, thanks to being able to use supercomputers to search for an optimal design.... But that remains to be seen.

--PeterM

If it was done today (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about a year and a half ago | (#43452499)

If the Saturn V project was done today, using todays project methodologies we could stack all the documentation onto a pile and walk to the moon.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?