Fifty Years Ago .... from the pages of Computer Weekly


1969 in computing compiled by TNMOC volunteer archivist, Brian Aldous.
A selection of stories from Computer Weekly from the spring of 1969.The full archive of Computer Weekly can be seen at TNMOC, where there are special rolling displays of front pages from 25 and 40 years ago.

The Moon Machines

While landing a man on the moon is a testament to man’s courage and endurance, the electronic and mechanical systems on board Apollo 11, together with the spaceship’s earthbound computer accoutrements, are evidence of his incredible ingenuity. Throughout the mission to the moon the world’s attention has been focused almost exclusively on the adventures of the three astronauts, Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin. Now, as Computer Weekly goes to press, the Apollo men are preparing for their return to earth with complete success within their grasp and the rest of the enormous organisation that made the journey possible, begins to unwind. (CW149 p12)

Space Power

Some idea of the computing power assembled for the task of getting man to the moon can be gathered from this listing of systems used and their locations and applications.

At the Manned Spacecraft Centre the Real Time Computer Complex uses two IBM 360/75s for interpreting radar and flight data and for computing flight path. Network switching is handled by a Univac 494 complex which controls communication lines into Houston. For the Goddard Real Time System at the Goddard Space Flight Center two 360/75s check tracking station operations and incoming data. Here too, Univac 494s are used for network switching, controlling worldwide communications from tracking stations and ships. Offline analysis of communications network data is done on an IBM 360/95.

In space the Saturn instrument unit uses an IBM computer for guidance, navigation and control of launch vehicle, while the command module and lunar module have MIT/Raytheon computers for navigation and for lunar and abort guidance systems. Tracking at 17 ground stations and on four ships is handled by Univac 642Bs and Univac 1218 and 1230 computers controlling equipment and data flow.

At Kennedy Space Centre, Saturn testing was done with the aid of RCA 110As operated by IBM to check-out the launch vehicle's three stages. Testing of the command and lunar modules was done on CDC 160Gs and countdown processing was the task of GE 635s. At Patrick Air Force Base range safety was under the control of CDC 3600s and special communication aircraft used data from an IBM 360/50.

Hundreds of installations were used in the programme. These included 360/75s at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory where programs were tested before being wired into spacecraft computer memories; Model 91s at Goddard and in New York handle engineering calculations, and a 360/75 at Houston was used as the ground support simulation computer. There is also a 360/50 at Houston which is being used to validate data being transmitted from instruments left on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew. Throughout the world at major locations, at tracking sites and on board the tracking ships, there were a total of 101 Univac systems in use. These included 48 642Bs, 33 1218s, six 494s, seven 1108s, and seven 418s.  (CW149 p21)

OCR Attachments for ICL Readers

The first document readers from ICL to have OCR attachments have passed their TSU site trials and will come into operation later this year at the Department of Health and Social Security, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They will be used to read in a total of 50 million Giro payment orders per hour into an ICL 1901. Three type 8201 document readers will be used. (CW146 p24)

1905E to go On-Line to Wards in Hospital

The largest computer system so far installed for hospital work in London - an ICL 1905E - has come into service at Kings College Hospital, where the UK’s first attempt will be made at using the computing on-line to wards and departments. The KCH project is the first of the Department of Health’s experimental large-scale computer schemes, which were formally announced at the beginning of this year. Basically, it will be a system for retrieval of medical records by which patient information will be input and accessed through visual display units. These are of the ‘local’ type, installed not more than 2,000 feet from the computer, which give the user the fastest possible response time. (CW143 p3)

PDP-8/L Processors in Newspaper Offices

Computerised typesetting systems, using PDP-8/L central processors have been installed in three newspaper offices. DEC now have 23 systems based on PDP-8 computers installed In the UK but these are the first to use the PDP-8/L. At the Belfast Telegraph, a dual system has been installed, with photoelectric readers and punches sited in the perforating and composing rooms. Unjustified tapes can be produced at a continuous 110 cps, or 12,000 newspaper lines per hour. (CW144 p8)

Granada’s Honeywell Hardware

Aiming at a dual-purpose system which will provide real time support for TV spot advertising and cope with a massive batch processing job, Granada Group Ltd installed a Honeywell H2200 computer in Bedford last September. Now Honeywell have delivered further hardware in the form of 10 Cossor visual display units and three Data Dynamics teletype units. These are being systems-tested in Bedford and will subsequently be installed in London to be linked to the computer over two 1,200 baud GPO telephone lines. (CW142 p8)

360/44 Aids Research into Earthquakes

Earthquakes occur regularly inside the IBM computer at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Only simulated ones, but they are reproductions of real earthquakes which are recorded almost daily at or near the institute. A 360/44 is being used by a special research team which is attempting to find out more about the origin and nature of earthquakes. Problems to be solved include: how portions of the earth slide and what triggers the activity; how earthquake waves travel through the layers of the earth; what happens to the energy, and what are the directions of earth movement during a quake. (CW142 p9)

Sadie and Susie firm goes Public

Following the successful launching of Kode International as a public company last month, Business Computers Ltd are now making a similar move and lists opened today (Thursday) for the sale of 700,000 2s Ordinary shares at 21s each. The company, which makes and markets the Sadie and Susie invoicing and stock control computers, took its present form in August last year when Business Mechanisation Ltd, the marketing end of the organisation, took over Systemation Ltd, the company which makes the machines at Portslade, Sussex. (CW142 p20)

New Company to meet Maintenance Needs

A new UK company, Computer Field Maintenance Ltd, has been formed to undertake the maintenance of proven computer systems. The company has as its managing director Mr Derek Royle, who was responsible for the development and management of English Electric Computer’s installation and field engineering organisation until it was incorporated into ICL in 1968. (CW145 p20)

Leasco go for Mod Ones

Phase one of Leasco’s five-year plan for time sharing in Europe will start in the autumn. It will comprise 12 systems installed in four countries, and it is planned that eight of these will be British-built Modular One machines from Computer Technology. The first four installations, which will be completed by the end of this year, will be in London, Birmingham, Munich and Sweden, and will use the Hewlett Packard Type 2000A time sharing system. (CW147 p1)

Remote terminals test radio link

The first elements of a unique telecommunications network, using radio links between CRT displays and a central computer, are now being installed in offices and showrooms of the West Midlands Gas Board. When complete, the network will provide an on-line customer inquiry service. It will be based on an ICL 1907 computer at the board’s head office at Solihull, and will use ICL 7152 inquiry terminals. (CW148 p24)

Simulating the Great Adventure

When Eagle settled and Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the moon early last Monday morning, they fulfilled one half of President Kennedy’s proclamation in 1961, that the USA would land men successfully on the moon and return them safely to the earth in this decade. The return of the Apollo 11 will complete this objective. The Apollo programme has proven, among other things, that a spacecraft can be designed and flown through the use of computers and simulation techniques prior to the flight test stage. In this case, the flight test stage and the actual flight are synonymous. The Apollo project presented to NASA a unique problem to design a spacecraft to fly, land and take-off in an environment unknown on earth. (CW149 p12)

Point-of-sale Terminal ready for Decimalisation

The compact point-of-sale terminal, developed by English Numbering Machines Ltd under contract to the GPO’s National Data Processing Service is now expected to go into production early next year and will be available for installation ready for decimalisation in February, 1971. (CW150 p28)

NPL Orders Interface Units from Honeywell

The latest company to join the growing number of those making British Standard Interfaces is the Computer Control Division of Honeywell. They have received an order for four such units from the NPL where much of the original development work on the interface was carried out. The units will be used to extend the input-output facilities of four Honeywell DDP 516 computers currently in use at the laboratory. Three of these are being used in the Computer Science Division in the development of communications networks and pattern processing related to character recognition. (CW151 p1)

System 4s get new Mag Tape Units

New magnetic tape units for the System 4 range of computers include three new nine-track phase encoded systems and a standard seven-track unit to ensure complete industry compatibility. The nine-track tapes will be compatible with both current and proposed ISO and ECMA standards. (CW154 p32)