Restorers Try to Get Lunar Module Guidance Computer Up and Running | WSJ

Restorers Try to Get Lunar Module Guidance Computer Up and Running | WSJ


– [Jimmie] I feel it’s one
of the most, if not the most important computers ever built. To me, it was the heart of the mission. We wouldn’t have went to the moon without the Apollo Guidance Computer. This may be the only time
an Apollo Guidance Computer is powered up, because this
has not been an easy task. It’s not just like we plug it in and go. It’s going to be a real monumental, it’s a monumental task, I would say. – Okay. Three, two, one, zero. We are impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Apollo Guidance
Computer, which was the computer that guided, basically, man to the moon. And we have a rare opportunity
to be able to restore it. – [Reporter] This is Marc Verdiell. He’s Chief Technology
Officer of a computer company called Samtec and lives in Silicon Valley. But his real passion is
restoring old vintage computers. He has a popular YouTube
channel where he makes videos like this. – [Marc] Woo-hoo! It’s doing something weird! – [Reporter] That’s what led
him to his most challenging restoration project yet, and
the unlikely man behind it, Jimmie Wayne Loocke. Loocke was hunting for electronic parts in an industrial area
outside of Houston in 1976 when he happened upon a warehouse that was looking to sell
some bulk electronics for scrap metal. – As soon as I walked into the place, I started looking around
and I started seeing things that I recognized as being
from the space program. – [Reporter] Loocke had actually worked briefly at NASA in Houston
as a low level technician, and so he was familiar
with some of the equipment. – [Marc] Basically, he bought
two tons of Apollo scrap, not having a really good
idea of what was in it. And eventually, he found out that in the pile of scrap he had, there was this Apollo Guidance Computer, which is the gem of his collection. – [Reporter] For decades, he let the Apollo Guidance
Computer discarded by NASA gather dust in storage until, one day, he decided to dig the machine out and to figure out what it was for. He was stunned by what he discovered. The electronic box he assumed was junk had actually been used to
test the Apollo lunar landers for the missions that first
landed men on the moon. – [Narrator] This guidance
and navigation system will be mounted in an Apollo spacecraft to aid our three
astronauts on their voyage to the moon and return. – [Reporter] Loocke soon found out that the Apollo Guidance Computer, or AGC, was at the time the most
advanced compact computer ever built. It was the first computer
to use integrated circuits, the backbone of modern electronics. It was the world’s first general
purpose, portable computer, the first to fly, and the
first on which human lives directly depended. Only a few were built, and
computer geeks have come to prize these innovative moon machines. But still, he didn’t know
what to do with his AGC until he went to a space
convention and met Mike Stewart, a space flight software engineer fascinated with the vintage machine, who then connected him with Verdiell and his small crew of
vintage computer restorers. And soon, the plan was hatched. This unlikely group
would attempt to restore and power up an Apollo Guidance Computer for the first time since the
moon landing 50 years ago. – [Neil] One giant leap for mankind. – [Marc] Ooh. Sorry guys, I have camera in hand. – [Reporter] The team
first flew out to Houston, checked into a hotel,
and turned their room into a makeshift laboratory, where they spent a week
assessing the computer, documenting the process on
Verdiell’s YouTube channel. – [Marc] Well, should we bow? This is the holy computer. – [Reporter] But they needed
more time and more equipment, so they asked Loocke to fly to
Silicon Valley with his AGC. Several months later, Loocke arrived at Verdiell’s home laboratory
with the computer in tow. – That’s still freaking heavy. – [Reporter] And the crew
went straight to work. – It’s still there! – [Reporter] The task ahead was daunting. They had to work twelve hours a day for almost fourteen straight days. – I have news for you. The pins are corroded and damaged, and I’m trying to figure out the extent of the damage. – How are they looking, Marc? – [Marc] Not good. – [Reporter] They dissected the machine, ran every diagnostic test they could, cleaned memory cores,
repaired broken wires, racing to power on the computer and attempt a test flight. – We all would like to
kind of have it repaired and then build a rocket
and go to the moon, but we can’t quite do that. The next step is to fly part of the mission and repeat what the astronauts were doing with the computer. – [Reporter] After nearly
two weeks of nonstop work, they’d reached the moment of truth. The crew gathered in Verdiell’s
basement with some friends to try and power on the AGC and attempt a test flight mission. – Three, two, one, zero. 2.27. Oh, it’s running. – Yeah, we got a display. – [Marc] On its own memory? – Yeah, on its own memory. (cheering and applauding) – [Marc] We have almost landed. For us, it’s the equivalent
of the moon landing. – [Mike] This is the
first time in 45 years anybody has turned this computer on, any computer of this model,
any Apollo Guidance Computer on and operated it. And the burn has started, so it’s now trying to fire the engine. This second register here
is now displaying our altitude rate. This is pretty much identical to what they would have seen on the real mission. – [Reporter] For his part,
Loocke hopes this project will help a younger generation
learn how this computer helped astronauts fly to the moon, and, in the process, helped pave the way for the advanced computers
we all depend on today. – We need to preserve the legacy of this computer. In other words, future generations need to understand
where all this came from 200 years from now. I want them to be able to see the Apollo Guidance Computer. (bright music)

17 thoughts to “Restorers Try to Get Lunar Module Guidance Computer Up and Running | WSJ”

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  4. Me: Have an iphone 6.
    Also me : Wants iphone 11 max pro.
    Again me: Plants my iphone 6, hoping to sell all future harvest to buy iphone 11 max pro.

  5. I watched every bit of the videos they posted about the restoration. Amazingly interesting stuff. Hearing the programs were gone, nothing could run it, nobody knew nothing about nothing, so gratifying to see the restoration bring together the programmers and run the program.

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