Left Brains for the Right Stuff: Computers, Space, and History

What made the Space Race possible? What made it necessary? How close a race was it? And what did it achieve? The answers are connected in surprising ways.

The history of three technologies, rockets, navigation, and computers, had to be woven into the rise and rivalry of superpowers in the 20th century. President John F. Kennedy inherited a small Space Race and transformed it into a Moon Race, making an "offer" the Soviet Union couldn't refuse.

Apollo won the Moon Race, and combined with the Space Shuttle won the Space Race, which did much to win the Cold War and save the American Century. Many big companies worked on those programs, and so did a small academic research laboratory. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Instrumentation Laboratory was the creation of one man, Charles Stark "Doc" Draper, who invented inertial navigation. This is a history, an inside story, and an exciting account of the whole Space Race, studded with startling insights into causes and effects and leavened by humorous observations of the ironies involved.

Author Hugh Blair-Smith worked at "the Lab," now the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, from 1959 through 1981. Trained as an electronic engineer and computer scientist, his work on Apollo started several months before the project began. As the Panama Canal was born successfully when seen as largely a railroad problem, so interplanetary space travel was born successfully when seen as largely a computer problem. Many thousands of people cooperated gladly, generously, passionately to add electronic left brains to the Right Stuff. Their creations answered the long-sought quest for "a moral equivalent to war."