Milestone-Nomination:Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)

Revision as of 22:10, 5 December 2010 by Ggcooke (talk | contribs)

Docket Number: 2010-02

Proposal Link:

In the space below the line, please enter your proposed citation in English, with title and text. Text absolutely limited to 70 words; 60 is preferable for aesthetic reasons. NOTE: The IEEE History Committee shall have final determination on the wording of the citation

'The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)'

The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was an on-board digital computer installed in each Apollo program spacecraft.  It provided onboard computation to support spacecraft guidance, navigation and control. The AGC was the first embedded system, used in real-time by astronaut pilots, to provide flight information and to automatically control navigational functions of the  spacecraft. It was developed during the 1960s under the leadership of Charles Stark Draper at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory.  

In the space below the line, please describe the historic significance of this work: its importance to the evolution of electrical and computer engineering and science and its importance to regional/national/international development.

AGC was a true pioneer: a mission-critical real-time, embedded digital computer system built using commercial integrated circuits. AGC  and the associated guidance, navigation and control system components made possible the lunar rendezvous mode trajectory used by the Apollo Program to put the first human beings on the moon and return them safely to earth. (1)

The AGC performed flawlessly on 15 manned flights, including nine flights to the moon and six successful lunar landings. It was used for three  manned Skylab missions and navigated the final Apollo spacecraft to a docking with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 1975. (2)

Astronauts repeatedly worked the AGC, achieving flawless moves and life-critical lunar landings. (3).


1. Wikipedia, Apollo Guidance Computer,

2. John Tylko, MIT and Navigating the Path to the Moon: AeroAstro Magazine Highlights, 2009 MIT

3. David A. Mindell, Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight. 2008 MIT Press

What features or characteristics set this work apart from similar achievements?

ACG was one of the first computers to use integrated circuits. "During 1963, the MIT Instrumentation Lab consumed 60 percent of the integrated circuit production in the United States. By 1964, more than 100,000 IC's had been used in the Apollo program. Approximately 2000 man-years of engineering were consumed in the development of the Apollo computer hardware." (2)

Software for the AGC was developed using a mix of assembly language and an interpreted mathematical language. Processes for software validation and verification were developed, making extensive use of hardware and software simulators. By 1968, over 1400 man-years of software engineering effort had been expended, with a peak manpower  level of 350 engineers. (2).

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Draper Lab memo.jpg