Shuttle Astronaut Mike Mullane has some thoughts about the IBM team who built the Shuttle onboard flight software.
The people who designed, tested and supported the Space Shuttle Flight Software were the most exceptional technical team I’ve encountered.
Space Shuttle Discovery’s flight in 1984 dumped an unexpected “payload” in orbit.
The maiden voyage of Space Shuttle Discovery was scheduled for June 25, 1984. The first-ever main engine shutdown launch abort scared the crap out of us.
Shuttle astronaut Judy Resnik was a pilot, a classical pianist, and had a PhD in Electrical Engineering. And she was a terrific emissary for NASA, as I found out when I invited her to speak to the IBM Shuttle Software team.
Astronaut Mike Mullane knew Shuttle was an experimental spaceship sitting atop highly volatile explosives. When NASA allowed civilians to ride they were implying it was safe when it was not. Unfortunately, he was right.
I had visions of the Space Shuttle Enterprise getting jostled during separation and colliding with the 747’s vertical stabilizer – which would definitely make for a bad day all around.
NASA’s John Aaron set high standards for IBM, and Space Shuttle onboard software came closer to “error-free” than any large, complex software ever built.
During the Apollo Program, NASA’s Phil Shaffer had subjected me to what I’d describe today as a version of “Shark Tank”. I wasn’t looking forward to presenting to him again on Shuttle.
The first version of the Shuttle flight software had two serious problems: it couldn’t fit in the computer, and it ran way too slow. IBM was two years into the contract and basically nothing worked. All hell broke loose.
By comparison to the Space Shuttle, Apollo was a Model-T Ford – no set of computer-controlled spaceship operations like this had ever been attempted. Nothing that got us to the Moon could be reused here, and so it was discarded.