Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. manned spaceflight. When Alan Shepard roared into orbit aboard Freedom 7, he did so with IBM sitting beside him.
“Alan Shepard was the bravest of the brave and his flight ushered in America’s space age,” said professor Arthur Cohen, an IBM mathematician. “The IBM team had the honor of applying computing power and mathematics to support Project Mercury to provide real-time data to NASA Mission Control. We experienced an unforgettable sense of excitement when Alan Shepard safely accomplished his mission. I will forever remember May 5, 1961, and the incredible team of NASA and IBM men and women I had the opportunity to work with.”
In the romance of spaceflight, the scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technologists and countless others who worked in the background are sometimes forgotten. IBM’s contribution was particularly essential to the success of NASA’s Mercury project and beyond.
IBM developed what it called a real-time channel, the IBM 7281, for Mission Control. From their posts on the ground, IBM and NASA personnel watched the progress of Mercury capsules. The channel received 1,000 bits of data per second. The data was analyzed by IBM’s 7090 transistorized computers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a 709 computer in Bermuda.
Through IBM technology and assistance, NASA tracked Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft positions, flight trajectory and orbital flight information, laying the groundwork for the way corporations use data, air traffic control systems and online travel reservations of today.
IBM is celebrating 100 years, and continues to lend its experience and expertise to NASA endeavors.