Navigating to the Moon: a View from the Apollo Guidance Computer – Jan. 12

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The January AAAP meeting will be held on the 12th at 7:30 PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk will be by Frank O’Brien, an expert in spaceflight history, and is entitled “Navigating to the Moon: a View from the Apollo Guidance Computer”.

Prior to the meeting, there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at Winberies, Palmer Square in Princeton at 5:45 PM. This is 15 minutes earlier than the usual start time. If you wish to attend please email no later than noon on January 12.

A flight to the moon seems impossibly complex, especially given the technological state of the art in the 1960’s. While the details are indeed formidable, the concepts are shockingly easy to understand.

Frank O’Brien

Frank O’Brien

Frank O’Brien will discuss the major hardware elements used in the Apollo spacecraft to voyage from the Earth to the Moon and back home again. The three key components—the computer, inertial platform, and the optics system will be presented as an integrated system. The basic questions of spaceflight navigation (i.e. Which way is up? Where am I? Where am I going?) will build upon one another to show the techniques to navigate to our nearest celestial neighbor. Although we will focus on flights to the Moon, the concepts are applicable for missions throughout the Solar System.

As a bonus , he will discuss the details of how to land on the Moon (If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s best to be prepared!)

Apollo Guidance Computer

Apollo Guidance Computer

Frank O’Brien has lent his spaceflight history expertise to NASA for 20 years as a contributing editor for NASA’s Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and is co-editor the Apollo Flight Journal. From this work, Frank was invited to the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island to help in their May 2002 reopening. He prepared a rare Lunar Module Mission Simulator for exhibition, wrote software for their Lunar Module cockpit trainer, and prepared an Apollo space suit for the museum’s Apollo 11 diorama.

His background on the lunar missions and computing led him to write a well-received book on the Apollo Guidance Computer, which will be available for purchase and signing following the talk. Frank is now working on a new book on Apollo spacecraft engineering. In 2011, Frank became a Solar System Ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  He lectures several times a year on a range of space topics. Frank has always been passionate about aviation, and was a pilot and aircraft owner for 25 years.

Since 2003, Frank has volunteered at the Infoage Science/History Center in Wall, New Jersey where he curates an early Apollo Guidance Computer, lectures, gives tours and helps with the organization’s public outreach efforts. Located at the site of Camp Evans, a National Historic Landmark, Infoage was recently awarded the IEEE Milestone Award for its TIROS 1 tracking station.

Frank is a 1979 computer science graduate of Rutgers University, and he later returned to Rutgers to earn his MBA. His day job as a database administrator for Colgate-Palmolive is far less interesting than thinking about trips to the moon.

This entry was posted in December 2015, Sidereal Times and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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