Insert Witty Title Here – Happy Fathers Day!

Insert Witty Title Here – Happy Fathers Day!

Happy Fathers day 2016!  Today is the day we recognize fathers. Sure it’s a bit of hallmark created day but if you take a moment to truly reflect you will realize that father’s are damn important.  I am really lucky as I have two fathers, my father Dan Lickly and my stepfather Jack Kennaday, both M.I.T. grads.  More on that later….

I talked to both today, (as all good children should!)  And my father recalled a story I had to share.  It was circa 1965, my father and Bard Crawford were heading to Houston for another meeting (they went a lot back in the day), they were on Eastern Airlines.

Anyone remember Eastern?  I am only going to bore you with a little history, (care of wikipedia) as it actually ties back to the whole space thing.  Eastern was originally headed by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker think scarf blowing in the wind…. see my earlier post.   Labor disputes and high debt loads strained the company in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the leadership of former astronaut Frank Borman. ( See astronaut!!) 

So, back to the flight, Bard and my father were flying from DC to Houston sitting in the easternback of the plane when they heard someone called out, “hey, how are you guys doing?”  they both looked up to see John Glen in the aisle.  At that time, John Glenn was somewhat of a celebrity as he was the first American to orbit the Earth. He remembered my father from previous meetings.  He then shook their hands, sat down and chatted up a storm.  When he finally left, Bard looked at my father and asked him “what was that all about?”  Dan just shook his head, “I don’t know”.  Then Bard looked at my father and said, He is probably going into politics when he is done”.   In 1974 John Glenn was elected to the Senate where he served until 1999.

Right about that time Glenn was elected, Jack Kennaday visited Boston and looked up some old friends. He was looking for Dan and my mother Ellie, but they had divorced and he found only Ellie.  The rest is history.  Back when I was in college, I was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, strongly influenced by both  Dan & Jack as they were in a fraternity at M.I.T. At the Hobart chapter of Sigma Chi, tradition held that at the end of the year at the fraternity, there were farewell speeches during our last house meeting.  I used to enjoy playing mind games with my fraternity brothers with the following story.  I would say, “look around the room guys, and let me tell you a story. You see, I have two fathers, both of whom went to M.I.T.  They graduated a year apart. Oh yeah, they knew each other too, you see, they were in the same fraternity with each other and even roomed together for a short time.  So take a good look…. ”

Oh yeah, I am a father now, to the most gorgeous, brightest, precocious girl just like all our kids!20160226_183130

Happy Fathers Day!

 

 

The Growler and The Dome

The Growler and The Dome

I recently had lunch with two of my favorite people, Steve Dolloff AKA”the Growler” and my father Dan Lickly AKA “the Dome”.

I am not sure where and when Steve earned the nickname the growler but he has had it for years and he insists there are people out there that know him as the growler and probably don’t know his real name.  Part of this is due to the fact that Steve was a hockey player, a pretty good one too, and well, hockey players do love their nicknames.  My father got the nickname in college, and well basically he has a huge head!  I mean ginormous!  Whenever I would buy a hat for him I would look for the largest size, and then see if I can find one larger.

This was a much overdue get together, Steve has been pestering me for years for the chance.  You see, he has a very strong and fond memory of my father that dates back years and to me is a good life lesson.

In the 1969/1970 hockey season, Steve was playing for the BU freshman hockey team, back then, freshman were not allowed to play varsity.  In a game at Dartmouth, Steve caught a stick in the eye… and it was bad.  So bad, that they bandaged up both eyes and told him not to move too much.  His mother, packed him in a car and drove from Dartmouth straight to Mass eye and ear with him still in full hockey equipment except for skates.

A funny side story, it seems Steve had the German Measles at the time.  When they got to the hospital they were kept waiting, I guess a guy in full hockey gear with bandages over his eyes doesn’t seem like an emergency.  His mother was getting anxious and mentioned to them he also had German measles and bam!  Just like that they rushed him in!

Steve was in the hospital for 6 days, and was blind.  They kept both his eyes covered except for once a day when they changed the bandages.  Steve is my mother’s sisters son, so my father was his uncle through marriage.  For those 6 days, each and every day, my father went to the hospital and read the newspaper to Steve.  He wasn’t asked to do it, he just showed up and sat by his bed and read the paper. To appreciate this small gesture,

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Steve Dolloff #18

think back to 1970, there wasn’t cable TV in every room (not that he could watch anyway), most news was obtained through newspapers and in fact, at that time the Boston Globe published 2 editions every day.  Steve has never forgotten this seemingly small act of kindness!

 

 

Fortunately he recovered and played the next three seasons on the varsity squad, oh, did I mention they won back to back national championships in 1971 and 1972. I should also mention that he has never thrown a picture or game program away so if your interested to talk about those teams you can reach out to him here.

Naturally, we didn’t just talk about hockey, my father told the story about him presenting to astronauts, and how he realized the Apollo astronauts were a much different breed as they had engineering backgrounds.  They asked a lot of really good questions, in fact, he recalls one astronaut kept interrupting him asking questions, good detailed questions, making it difficult for him to keep going with his presentation.  Afterwards he asked somebody, “who was that guy asking all those questions” only to learn his name was Neil Armstrong.

Dan then recalled the last time he saw Neil Armstrong, it was at the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, he talked to him a little bit. The thing he remembers most however, is seeing Mike Collins.  For those needing a refresher, he was the third astronaut on Apollo 11, the one that stayed in the command module and orbited the moon while the other two took the Lunar Module to the moon surface. At the anniversary Sue Patterson, (Dan’s date) cornered Mike Collins, and in Sue being Sue fashion, asked him, “while your pals were down on the moon making news, what were you doing?”  Mike Collins answered politely, “Just doing my job Ma’me”

Interesting note, apparently one of the biggest concerns of this mission is whetdownloadher the the Lunar Module would re-start after landing on the moon.  Mike Collins could only wait a day or two, if it didn’t start we might have ended up with a real world “Martian” experience.

In 1961, Draper Lab (formerly the Instrumentation Lab) received the first NASA contract and were the first prime contractor for the guidance and navigation systems.  Once Dan went to visit one of their sub-contractors North American Aerospace (A defense contractor). He walks in the room and there are 12 people in the meeting working on the project.  He asked afterwards “why so many people? and the guy there who he knew well responded “Dan, you don’t understand government contracts, they are welfare for the middle class.”   Ouch!

Now let me end on a slightly happier note and I guess sticking (no pun intended) with the small acts of kindness can go a long way theme. In 1972, BU won their second of back to back national championships at the Boston garden.  Myself like a lot of kids leaned over the glass as the team left the ice, cheering and asking for a sticks, a puck, any kind of souvenir.  I remember vividly, as the team walked past including my cousin Steve Dolloff #18, being slightly disappointing as I thought I wasn’t going to get anything when all of a sudden, a tap at the glass, and Growler came back and handed me his stick. It was a simple gesture, but one I have never forgotten. I kept it for years, always in the garage always

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1972 Championship stick

in a barrel along with other hockey sticks, baseball bats, and a variety of other gear.  Only maybe, possibly, perhaps did it get used, but I swear just once or twice.  I had the pleasure of returning the stick to its owner just a few years ago.  And trust me, I can tell you a
couple of things about the Growler, first, the nickname doesn’t apply anymore as he may be the most positive person in the world.  Second, he is very proud of BU Hockey and their achievements and his contribution. The stick joined his championship ring and a gazillion old photos, game programs, newspaper clippings and jackets!

 

 

 

Programming the Guidance Systems for Apollo

Programming the Guidance Systems for Apollo

I asked my father to tell me about how they went about programming the guidance systems for Apollo.  I already knew that a lot of it was done by punch cards.  Punch cards look a lot like the voting systems in Florida, so think of them like the original hanging chads, and we all remember hanging chads right?

Punch cards were actually just the data entry tool that was used before keyboards.  Each punch card had 80 columns that contained 10 numbers (0-9) and 2 over punches.  With these numbers you could create a number, letter or special character. So each column was a single number or letter i.e. a single keystroke on a keyboard. Fortunately, they didn’t have to punch the cards by hand (no hanging chads this way), they had key punch machines that they could use to punch out each column.  So each card could contain 80 keystrokes.  But wait, that’s not all, after you punch out all your cards to make up the code you want to write, you want to make sure everything is correct.  ibm-punchcardSo you would put the cards through a punch card printer, which would then print out the card data, on large sheets of green continuous feed paper.  You could then review what you created on your cards. Of course, we know that programmers always write code correctly the first time, so no need to go back and re-punch any cards or print out again and validate.  So, once you have all the cards just the way you want them, you would then put them in a punch card reader with some control cards which would tell the general computer what you were doing and where to put it. It would call up the YUL assembler which was specially written to take source code and produce Apollo Guidance Code (AGC). Of course, you actually do all this on a simulator first, which you would run many many times before actually getting it onto the AGC computer.

And yes, I am sure 52 card pickup was a popular prank!

The Instrumentation Lab developed the assembler language & interpreter that handled the Apollo guidance systems.

In a previous post I talked about an Astronaut error. The astronauts used a control panel where they could call up actions and programs through a panel.  I am over simplifying, but they had a button for Verbs, Nouns and Programs\Actions and a corresponding manual with codes for each of these.  So, if they wanted to “CHECK, FUEL, BoostEngine.” They would call up the appropriate program and then for example hit the verb button, enter code number (V21), enter noun button and enter code  (N74), then enter program and enter the right program number (Poo).  I just made you say POO!

I have fond memories of punch cards as my father always had stack of them in his back pocket and shirt pocket. Not only were they a programming tool, but they made great note paper.

I will forever be amazed at how we were able to put a man on the moon with the technology of the 60’s.   FOREVER!

 

 

Hey, What’s This Button For?

Hey, What’s This Button For?

One of the early challenges between the engineers and the astronauts was the amount of human intervention especially with the guidance systems.  The Astronauts naturally being pilots wanted complete control while the engineers lobbied for automation.

As Dan put it jokingly, they wanted to fly with white scarfs around their neck waving in the breeze.

To their credit, the Apollo astronauts were a dramatically different breed then the Mercury ones.  The Mercury pilots were a bit more the swashbucklers while the second wave were all highly educated and most with advanced engineering degrees,

Rusty Schweickart, Jim McDivitt & Dave Scott were the Apollo 9 crew.  For the better part of a year and half, they stationed themselves at the M.I.T Instrumentation Lab (the precursor to Draper Lab circa 1963).  The M.I.T team worked with them to make sure things were done correctly.  Dan recalls they made fun of Dave, asking them to repeat things because Dave picked things up slowly.  ( He had a masters degree in aeronautics from M.I.T.).

During his many briefings of the Astronauts, Dan remembered they asked a lot of questions, good questions.  One Astronaut in particular Dan recalls asking many detailed and significant questions, and made it hard for him to get through his presentation, afterwards he asked who was that guy?  His name was Neil Armstrong, who they didn’t know at the time would be the first man to walk on the moon.  Dan even remembers that Neil Armstrong was so thorough that he had a wind tunnel installed at his home.

Back to man vs machines. The team at the Instrumentation Lab developed a legal sequence matrix (my interpretation not the official name) to help prevent mistakes. This matrix essentially outlined logical next sequences from any given state and these were allowable program codes to enter, all others would be not available.  For example, if the lunar module was on the moon, a pre-launch program would not be an option.  Similarly, if they were in orbit of the moon, an earth re-entry program would be unavailable.  Sounds good to me right?

Well, let’s remember the time, these guys put a man on the moon with the compute power of a hand held calculator, a 10 year old calculator, with less horse power than your iPhone 5 or 6!

We are not talking Gigabytes, nor megabytes but more like kilobytes, well it was actually “Core Rope memory”. As I recall this memory was actually made by women in the textile mills, but that’s story for another time. At that time, a megabyte cost a million dollars.

Let’s just assume memory was at a premium.  So, enter Chris Kraft, Kraft was NASA’s first flight director. He was on duty during such historic missions as America’s first human spaceflight, first human orbital flight, and first spacewalk. At the beginning of the Apollo program, Kraft retired as a flight director to concentrate on management and mission planning. So in other words, for Apollo, he was the man!.  Well, at some point, Chris decided to save memory and that they should delete the legal sequence matrix because his “Astronauts were so well trained that they wouldn’t make a mistake.”   So he had the Instrumentation Lab remove it.

During a conference on the Apollo Guidance System (circa 2001/2002), Margaret Hamilton reflected “So we were very worried that what if the astronaut, during mid-course, would select pre-launch, for example? Never would happen, they said. Never would happen. (Laughter) It happened.”

“In fact, they went back to read the program notes and we had a program note saying “Do not select PO1 mid course.” I was so happy that that it was in there. That was Apollo 8, Jim Lovell’s mission. We had the program note “do not select PO1 during flight.” I still remember the program note.”

During every Apollo flight, they would man headphones 24 hours a day in a kind of command post. About 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, they were listening to the astronauts on the phones. All of a sudden Jim Lovell says “Oh oh.” And everybody said, “What’s oh oh?” He said “I think I just did something wrong.” I don’t know who was on the phones at NASA, and the people at NASA were all monotones. I mean, you could have an earthquake and they wouldn’t say much. So he said, “What did you do wrong?” “I think I keyed in PO1 and I’m in rendezvous. Did anything happen? Is that okay?” (Laughter) Of course, they didn’t know whether it was okay at NASA at all, and so they asked us. I guess we didn’t know if it was okay right away but it turned out it was not okay.

And Dan leaped into action, I remember him furiously spending the next I would say hour tracing through the listing, going through the situation of what would happen if you were in rendezvous and you keyed in PO1. It was quite a detective adventure. It turned out that Lovell had wiped out all of his erasable memory and all of his navigation, the correlations that he had been taking up, and all of the settings that he had done. He had pretty much corrupted the whole memory.

According to Dan, “We went and simulated what he did and checked memory, location by locaiton to see what it was before he pulled his boob boo to see how much was corrupted and how much was ok.  We were lucky, but not as lucky as the guy who did it (Jim Lovell) as he was in space.

Dan -“The thing is, the Astronauts were supremely trained, they were smart, they were talented, but you can’t account for spending days in space, with little sleep, stress… that’s when accidents happen. Sleep deprivation is a real problem”

 

 

Preview Edition

Preview Edition

As I am getting ready to set out on my adventure I have started to think about some of the topics to discuss and have also been collecting ideas from people. So, if all goes according to plan and in no particular order, here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Children playing at the Jet Propulsion Lab, M.I.T Instrumention Lab and Draper Lab ( I was one of them)
  • Some interesting adventures from the Polaris missile program
  • The first NASA contract (hint, hint guess who won it?)
  • Behind the scenes at Apollo – some errors and mishaps
  • Astronauts – what some of them were really like
  • Programming software in the NASA Apollo era
  • HAL
  • Intermetrics
  • My fathers first car (yes there is a story there)
  • The current M.I.T curriculum (trust me, it’s a classic!)
  • Lickly Corners. Yes there is such a place! (It’s where Lickley road meets Tamarack Rd. Duh!)
  • Hardball squash

Looks like we are taking the northern route, so if anyone has suggestions on places to eat or things to see, I am all ears and stomach!

Here’s a picture of the young man I will be spending the next few days with.

dad