Our team was one of about a dozen different projects at One Space Park that was part of the much bigger 17,000 members nation-wide Apollo project that involved dozen and dozens of companies, large and small - spread all over the country.
TRW and it's One Space Park Campus was one of the top prestige companies in the booming Aerospace age of the 1960s. The Campus was all new and very space-age looking with several different heights and sizes of black mirror-covered buildings, with an eight story gleaming white building as Corporate Headquarters in the middle. It looked like a set from Star Wars, and in fact, a number of episodes of the series were filmed there.
It was a pretty heady place for a young Ogden boy to find himself—fresh from several years in the Army and a few more at Weber College. I mean, this was a place chock full of real brainiacs and endless PHd's from MIT to Cal Tech, and every important University in between.
How did I get there, you ask? Through a few very fortunate occurrences and acquaintances. While a chemistry student at Weber College I met an engineer who worked at Thiokol in Ogden named Don Killmer, a friend to this day. Don later moved to Los Angeles and went to work for Litton Systems. Through Don, I was hired by Litton in Canoga Park, California doing mathematical calculations on Inertial Guidance Systems used in combat Jets. Sounds pretty exciting, and it was — for a few weeks. However, it became seriously boring and repetitious in that era just before computers replaced a lot of hand calculating.
Working in that section was a rather brilliant engineer named Leo Solomon who befriended me and made going to work less boring. He introduced me to a derelict computer, a very early machine called the Bendix G-15. It was about the size and shape of a refrigerator and the only way to communicate with it was with punched paper tape.
Together Leo and I ended up programming all the different calculations we used in our regular duties and making this old G-15 produce all the hand calculating work! Shortly after that, our positions were both "retired" and turned over to the machine.
Soon after that Leo got hired by TRW - a definite step up in the Aerospace world. About six months later, he used his newly-found Cal Tech clout to vouch for me to get an entry level engineering job — working with him on the Moon Project no less!
LEMAGS was one of more than a dozen different and specialized computer systems that was part of the Apollo Project. The sole purpose of this $8 million (1968’s dollars) project was to provide, in real time, a complete set of "flight instructions" that would take over the Landing Module and guide it back to the command Module in the event of any emergency. This was the system that was activated if either of the two astronauts in the Landing Module hit the "Red" button during the period from separation of the Command Module/Lander from the third stage rocket, through descent to moon surface, landing, stay on moon, launch from moon, and re-uniting with the Command Module in moon orbit.
The system kept track of its own position, the Earth's position, the Moon's position, and the Command Module's position. Chewing all those thousands of inputs up multi-times per second, the system was able to keep an exact up-to-the-millisecond set of commands that would get the Landing Module — with two astronauts on board — back to the Command Module with the third member aboard it. It was only the Command Module that could make it back to earth, so needless to say, reconnecting the lander with the command module was of major importance and the sole dedication of these 17 pocket protector wearing Comrades of mine.
I had the great fortune, a life changing experience as it turns out, to be assigned to work under one of the section's most brilliant engineers. His name was Yukio Miyataka, hands down the most brilliant person I ever knew. Yukio was at the heart of figuring out all the engineering and 'rithmatic stuff that was required to bring this far-fetched science fiction exercise to actual fruition.
In the weeks leading up to the landing, we ran endless computer simulations of our program, taking into consideration every possible input and contingency. (The Lander/Command Module separation from the third stage rocket took place while in earth orbit, and once in Moon orbit, the Lander and the Command Module separated with the Lander, then descended to the Moon surface while the Command Module stayed in orbit around the Moon.)
There was a lot of excitement in the air at Space Park in the weeks leading up to the Launch and Moon Landing. This group of normally very staid and reserved engineers and their support team were normally all business - engineering and serious arithmetic kind of business - but even they were caught smiling and showing occasional excitement at participating in such a historic event. A few of the top guys were even known to break into a jig upon a successful computer simulation.
There was also an underlying foreboding in the section, fear of something in this monstrously complex Saturn Five/Apollo Project failing and bringing shame on America's pride — the Space Program.
It had been only a year and half earlier that the tragic in-capsule fire engulfed Apollo 1 during a launch-pad simulation that had killed three astronauts - Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee and cast a huge shadow over the entire program. The thought that it could happen again was never far away, especially with so many moving parts and different systems involved.
The actual landing would also be the end of our section's mission and we would all be spread to other sections of TRW. So, along with the excitement, there was an undertone of poignancy for a group who had been together for five years — and all of a sudden, it was graduation day and everything was about to change, and how the heck was anyone gonna top having worked on the Moon Landing!
In my case the worse happened - I was assigned to the Minuteman project using my new-found knowledge of orbital 'rithmatic to guide multi war-head nuclear bombs to cities with funny names in China and Russia. That's a whole other story — much shorter and a whole lot less exciting!