Guidance to the Moon

Based on Battin's recent work, the IL thought they could develop a system that provided onboard guidance with periodic updates supplied by the crew through star sightings, and they could also provide a programmed return mode if the crew were ''decimated'' by an accident. NASA told MIT to expect a contract for approximately $100,000 for about six months, which would fund a study but not hardware design, including topics like midcourse guidance, instrument design, computer requirements, and reentry guidance. MIT would agree to submit a work statement for the basis of a contract, and would report to the Space Task Group (the study was to complement the feasibility studies then underway). In sum, NASA and the MIT group agreed that the project would study ''a manned spaceflight system capability, not simply to circumnavigate the moon with an encapsulated man.'' As in Mercury, NASA made the distinction between a manned craft with a passive passenger and a piloted spacecraft. Lunar landing was not mentioned in the discussion.26

A few months later, in April 1961, Robert Chilton visited MIT and toured the facilities. Though he had worked with Draper as a student, he didn't know anyone else in the group. Chilton now met the core talent like Trageser, Battin, and Laning. He found them ''very impressive people.'' He was also amazed to learn about the role the MIT had played in Polaris—performing ''overall system management'' for the guidance system, and then integrating it into the missile itself.

Chilton also saw that the Polaris system, although radically different in form, shared some key human-machine features with Apollo. ''What they needed to do was have a guidance system on the Polaris missile so that as it was stored in the submarine, wherever they went, they'd know where they are and how to reach the target. When they got to the point where they could shoot off the missile, it would know where to go. That was obviously, a very close, happy marriage for us [in Apollo].''27 The Apollo study contract with NASA had not yet been signed, but the IL was already gearing up its staff in preparation for the work. Polaris was just winding down, freeing up considerable personnel.

As Chilton met with the IL group, he began to understand their unique position as a university-based laboratory that did more than basic research and actually developed operational hardware. IL engineers pointed out that they could not compete with industry for contracts, but were rather directed to undertake projects ''on the frontier of industrial capability.''28 Chilton worked with Trageser on some basic specifications, and determined that an Apollo design would consist of

■ A general-purpose digital computer

■ An inertial guidance unit

■ A console for the astronauts

■ Other electronics for support

It would be, in effect, an expanded version of the Mars computer—but with a human interface. They chose as well to keep the in-flight autonomy of navigation that characterized the IL's work and factored in their earlier studies, so Apollo navigation would not be vulnerable to jamming from the Soviets. Chilton emphasized the importance NASA would attach to astronaut participation, ''to utilize the man in carrying out his complex mission rather than merely to bring him along for the ride.''29

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