Thursday, July 27, 2006

The first place I ever worked.

As a freshly minted young whelp engineer right out of college I was given a rare opportunity to work on something most could only dream of -- the space shuttle's flight computer systems. The space shuttle was originally a Rockwell International project. Saddly, Rockwell Intl no longer exists in the form it did when I worked there. The company has been sold off in bits and pieces and only minor parts still bear the the name of the company. Boeing has the space shuttle business now.

Rockwell had a long illustrious history as a "conglomerate". They were into everything - microelectronics, space vehicles, fighter planes, truck axels, power tools, etc.

The famous P51 Mustang was a North American Rockwell product.

The Apollo command module was a Rockwell project.

The B1-B Lancer bomber (the pic above) was a Rockwell project.

Unlike a lot of conglomerates, Rockwell's seemingly unrelated businesses cross pollinated and engineers with particular skills or experience moved around between them as needed. There was no place to hide at Rockwell either -- you were thrown in the soup the first day on the job and expected to perform. "Hey kid, you're the designated expert on this box and we plan to launch Columbia for the first time in 6 months, so get to it."

The IBM guys from Federal Systems division that made the shuttle's computers were pretty good too. They deserve a hat tip. Sadly, IBM FSD no longer is IBM and doesn't exist anymore either.


Always On Watch said...

IBM was the leader in the industry at the time.

My grandmother, a middle-aged woman from the hills of Tennessee and a natural wizard at math even with a mere eighth-grade education, was schooled by them at Endicott. When I had a bit of trouble with computer programming in college, she studied my textbook and rescued me; she was 70 years old at the time and sharp as a tack.

Purple Avenger said...

Endicott -- was/is the home of the "big iron" mainframes.

I cut my teeth as an undergrad on an IBM 360 model 30. I think it had a whopping 16K of memory and we fed it decks of punch cards.

Architecturally, the space shuttle main flight computers resemble the old 360's.