Lessons from Apollo 11

By Hubert Yoshida posted 07-17-2019 00:00



July 20th, 1969, marks the 50thanniversary of the lunar landing of Apollo 11. This brings back a lot of great memories for me as I was on the IBM team that was supporting the IT requirements for North American Rockwell, of Downey, California, the manufacturer of the Apollo Command and Service modules. When I was a senior at the University of California Berkeley, in 1961, I was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s announcement of the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon and back before the end of the decade. The fact that the goal was achieved in 9 years was nothing short of amazing since most of the technology to achieve this did not exist when the goal was stated.

I was in complete awe as I witnessed the video of the landing on my 17 inch Zenith television. To commemorate this event, I took pictures of this historic event on TV with my Kodak camera. This has become all the more amazing to me, over the years, considering the types of systems that the industry had to work with in those day.

I was hired by IBM in 1967, as one of the many recruits for the launch of the new family of mainframe computer systems called the System 360 (S/360).  It was the first family of computers designed to cover the complete range of applications, from small to large, both commercial and scientific. Customers could purchase a smaller system with the knowledge they would always be able to migrate upward if their needs grew, without reprogramming of application software or replacing peripheral devices. S/360 was one of the technologies which helped and benefitted from this race to the Moon.

The largest S/360 was the model 91 which could do 16.6 million instructions per second and had up to 8 MB of memory. The state of the art storage system at that time was the 2314 which had removable disk packs. It provided a storage capacity of 29.2 MB per pack or 233 MB in the eight-pack facility and had a data rate of 310 KB/S. Compare that with the processing power and memory in your iPhone.

There will be many programs being aired this week to commemorate this achievement. However, you will not be able to see the video of the landing that I viewed on television back in 1969. NASA has lost the original moon walk tapes. A team of retired NASA employees and contractors tried to find the tapes in the early 2000s but were unable to do so. The researchers concluded that the tapes containing the raw unprocessed Apollo 11 SSTV signal were erased and reused by NASA in the early 1980s, following standard procedure at the time. This has given conspiracy theorists reason to doubt the validity of the Moon landing.

So much for data retention policies. However, I am not about to cast stones. When I went to search for the photos that I took 50 years ago to post in this blog, I could not find them in the shoe boxes in my closet. (If only I had an iphone back then to records these once in a life time events. I would be able to find them in the cloud)

This story has several lessons.

  1. The most important is that we need to set bold goals to galvanize people into action and accelerate results
  2. Have a data retention policy
  3. Conspiracy theories occur when government agencies lose things
  4. Clouds are better than shoe boxes for storing valuable documents.

1 view



08-02-2019 00:35

Thank Bill. I commented on your blog post

08-01-2019 17:13

Hu, I love this personal recollection, and involvement in, the first Moon Landing. I wrote an article about it on my blog here: History of the 1st Moon Landing – Apollo 11: 50 Years Ago. It's something you never forget.

07-30-2019 12:34

The 1969 moon landing is probably one of my earliest memories.

That what I saw then and understood later must have triggered my interest for Sci-Fi movies and technology.

Thanks for sharing.

07-19-2019 17:16

Hello Rebecca, thanks for sharing. Did you take any pictures at the time that you could share?

07-18-2019 22:52

Great story, Hu. Wonderful to have played a part.

I watched with my family, in our living room, like kids everywhere at the time.

07-18-2019 20:02

It is amazing that you were a part of and witness to a moment so important in our history. What memories the recollections from the lunar landing must bring to you. And, lucky for us, they inspired an article such as this. Thank you for sharing.