Manned Space History, MIT 2001-2

When Apollo was over and the Space Shuttle had stopped being News, Americans let the Space Age drop off their radar. Exhaustion from the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration's ungraceful end, combined with anxiety over energy and inflation, may have helped to push astronauts and spacecraft into the shadows even as they continued to operate.

At the turn of the millenium, a new generation seems to have noticed that what we'd done in Apollo and the rest of the space program was really cool, and doubly so when considering the state of technology when it was done. Among the leaders of a revived interest in Apollo is Prof. David Mindell of MIT, who decided to collect some oral history from the many veterans of the project, under the rubric History of Recent Science and Technology (HRST). Though no longer posted on MIT's Dibner Institute website, some transcripts have been preserved by Cal Tech.

These reunions showed that many old MIT Rocket Scientists were available to participate and generally continued to flourish; evidently, doing cool things builds healthy minds and bodies. At the wake for one of the exceptions, I was surprised at how many of the attendees I recognized; then it occurred to me, wait a minute, these are the sons of the men I remember. Don Bowler, Jr., one of the deceased's three sons, was a perfect clone of his father as I knew him.

Prof. Mindell's project was associated with his course in the history of technology, and he invited some of us to give a few guest lectures, which were well received. His book, Digital Apollo, is a fascinating account of the growing partnership between men and machines that was essential to space flight among other things. I made a few annotations and corrections to it, which are posted on the book's website.

Renewed interest in Apollo and the computer science of its day turned out to have more interesting angles than I'd have guessed ....