For those of you who have been planning a trip to the lunar surface, but have been haggling over which computer-driven landing system to make use of — your search is over. A man by the name of John Pultorak has done all the development work for you in the form of his project to recreate the original Apollo landing computer that was used in all of the moon missions NASA sent up into space. A faithful reproduction right down to the original software that MIT developed for the device, Pultorak’s accomplishment is an extraordinary testament to what a motivated geek can accomplish!Working on the project during his free time on the weekends, Pultorak started to build his piece of computer history back in 2000. Getting help from his son and other friend, it took him 4 years and $3000 to complete the working system. During that time he made not one but three working versions of the computer, with the first two being prototypes that he built upon to get the third where he wanted it to be.Unlike modern computers, which are modular in nature, the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) had to be wired together by hand, a tedious task that is rife with the opportunity for mistakes to be made.As you can see from the picture above, the amount of wiring that goes into an AGC unit is extensive, with Pultorak’s version showing his incredible attention to detail and cord management. What makes the AGC so interesting to both space and computer buffs is that it was the first computer to make use of integrated circuits, or microchips which ran at 1Mhz (blindingly fast for its time) .Originally built by MIT scientists in the 1960’s, each Apollo mission carried two AGC’s to complete the landing procedure on the moon. One was in the orbiter, and a second inside the landing capsule. The most famous mention of the AGC is when Neil Armstrong and his crew became the first humans to land on the moon. The AGC kept giving an alarm that almost caused the astronauts to have to abort the mission as they were down to just thirty seconds of fuel.What’s interesting is that the AGC itself wasn’t broken or giving an error, as the alarm was caused by Buzz Aldrin covering his bases and leaving the guidance system running in case of a catastrophe. At the same time the landing radar was running, causing both systems to be feeding information to the AGC at the same time. With a maximum multi-tasking capability of 8 jobs at one time, the AGC was telling the astronauts that it simply had too much information being thrown at it.Nowadays you could use your smartphone to power your trip to the moon, but if you want to be as authentic as possible you can build your own AGC by following the incredibly well documented build process that Pultorak went through. Do us a favor, if you do end up creating your own rocket, lunar lander and mission to the moon, take a picture of the US flag that Armstrong planted up there so the conspiracy theorists can be silenced!Read more at Galaxiki.org and the New York Times.
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