Designing the Project

IL engineers quickly set about specifying the requirements. During the first year engineers tried to understand the scope of their commitment in order to define the details of a full contract.49 Initially, it seemed that the key components of the system would be the space sextant, to allow the astronauts to align the inertial platform during mid-course navigation, and a series of gyroscopes to stabilize the accelerometers. Cost estimates came in at about $150 million.50

The original proposal was simply for an inertial guidance unit, to take navigation fixes, but before the end of the year, the IL staff proposed that the Apollo system contain a digital computer to keep track of the spacecraft's progress and perform navigational calculations. By then, NASA's original statement of work had been significantly expanded to include guidance during all phases of flight, not just the navigation to the moon.51 It also defined the crew of three: the commander would ''control the spacecraft in manual or automatic mode'' and select and monitor the various guidance modes; the co-pilot would support the commander and serve as an alternate pilot. The third crewmember, the ''systems engineer,'' would monitor the other associated systems like propulsion, electric power, and life support.52

As with Polaris, the IL could not provide production hardware to NASA—Draper's lab was no factory, but rather a design and prototyping shop (actually, it was a research laboratory, but departed from that role in Apollo from the beginning). By early 1962 MIT issued requests for contracts for the production of the major systems, including the inertial unit, computer, accelerometers, and optical system.53 Twenty-six companies submitted proposals, representing a cross-section of the controls and computing industry in the country at the time: the Autonetics division of North American Aviation, Burroughs, Control Data, Minneapolis-Honeywell, and Sperry Gyroscope, to name but a few. A NASA board evaluated the contractors. Administrator James Webb, in consultation with Dryden and Seamans, made the final decision in May 1962.54

AC Spark Plug (a division of General Motors, soon renamed AC Electronics) would build the inertial platform, as well as ground support and checkout equipment, and would assemble and test the system. AC Sparkplug of course had emerged from the automobile industry, and on the surface seemed an unlikely choice to build a precision space system (spacecraft don't have sparkplugs). Yet the company was actually a leader in inertial guidance: they had done the guidance systems for the THOR and TITAN missile programs.55 For Apollo they narrowly edged out Hughes Aircraft, which had worked with the MIT/IL on Polaris. Minneapolis-Honeywell was among the top control systems companies in the country and achieved high technical ratings, but the company was busy with other projects and NASA felt the Apollo contract might exceed their capacity.56

Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based military electronics company, would manufacture the digital computer. The company was then producing the computers for Polaris and had worked closely with the IL engineers. Kollsman Instrument would build the optical systems, which included a space sextant.57 Kollsman had been started in Brooklyn, New York, by Paul Kollsman to market his invention: a precision altimeter for aircraft, still a standard component of nearly all aircraft today (the calibration dial in an aviation altimeter is called a ''Kollsman window''). Kollsman had worked on Doolit-tle's early instrument flights in the 1920s, and during the 1950s built precision optical instruments for sun- and star-tracking on air force bombers.

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