Moon Shot

Posted on 11/22/2020. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

Cold War Story #5 Excerpted from Cold War Stories

Atlas Rocket lifting off at Kennedy Space Center
with astronauts to be landed on the Moon.
Picture is in Public domain

This story has been published and is protected by copyright.

Moon Shot

The Cold War was at its peak when President Kennedy first broached the idea of sending a man to the moon in a speech to a joint congressional audience in May 1961. Part of the Cold War competition involved developing a superior capability in space. Putting a man on the moon would be a dramatic demonstration of the United States capabilities. The idea had bipartisan congressional support, and money was appropriated to explore the feasibility of the idea and develop a plan to land men on the moon and return them safely to earth.

The United States industrial complex took immediate notice of the possibility of lucrative government contracts. No company could claim experience in landing a man on the moon, but any company that had ever gotten near a rocket or launch site, and some that never had, were eager to pitch their capabilities to lead or assist in an effort to land a man on the moon.

In 1962 the president was able to announce in Houston, the city where the national space center would be located, the plan to develop the capability to fly men to the moon and return them to the earth by the end of the decade.

Companies sniffing out the moon landing contract possibilities included Data Action Corporation (DAC), Government Systems Division, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. DAC Government Systems management asked their Washington marketing people to beat the bushes for opportunities related to the moon landing program.

The Washington DAC sales office had been recently put together and was thin in experience and contacts, particularly with regards to NASA. The fledgling company had never worked on any NASA contracts. The DAC salesperson eventually selected to lead the DAC effort was a hillbilly from the hills of Tennessee named Dan Daggart. Dan, like the other people in the office, had no previous experience with NASA programs or contacts with people in the NASA orbit. However, other programs Dan had pursued while he worked for DAC had turned out to be dry holes and he was looking for something to do and became the logical choice to check out NASA possibilities.

Dan had been been with DAC for two years. His resume indicated he had been knocking around Washington for a while, working mostly for tech companies and pitching equipment and services to federal agencies or prime contractors for use in military programs.

Dan’s parents were tobacco farmers, with moonshine as a sideline. Dan wasn’t interested in the tobacco part of the family business but considered moonshine as a future. He changed his mind about the business when his parents got busted. He decided to explore other options. Despite the difficulties the parents were experiencing, the family moonshine business had provided a substantial sum of assets safely hidden from federal agent eyes that Dan could tap. Surprisingly, Dan decided to use some of those funds for educational purposes and enrolled in a local college. He didn’t know what he wanted to study but wanted it to be something useful. His student advisor suggested something to do with technology would be good. However, the only thing close to technology the college offered was general science. So Dan got a BA in General Science and went to Washington to find a job.

Dan had a way with people and made friends easily. Women seemed attracted to Dan, although it wasn’t obvious why. Physically Dan was on the short side, five-feet-seven inches tall, of average build, with receding straight black hair. However, he had a gift of gab and a southern drawl that put women at ease on first contact.

Back in Minneapolis, a group in the DAC Government Systems Division was designated as Marketing Support. It was made up mostly of engineers who found their expertise was not in design, analysis, documenting, or troubleshooting of inanimate objects but more in the people-to-people interaction that goes on with any human activity. Other engineers who were especially creative and productive were promoted out of work they loved and put into Marketing Support, where they were often a poor fit. And there always seemed to be few misfits gaming the system in Marketing Support, talking the talk but faking their level of expertise.

As a starting point in getting his arms around the NASA market, Dan decided to contact DAC Marketing Support in Minneapolis to see what they knew about NASA. What he learned wasn’t promising. But Bert Johansson, manager of DAC Government Systems Marketing Support, thought that a person who spent most of his time in the Washington office might have some ideas about NASA. His name was John Forsum.

John Forsum was a Minneapolis native whose family had the means to support numerous city’s amenities related to the arts and music. John’s father was a lawyer associated with a prestigious law firm and, since John had been a good student, had encouraged him to pursue a profession such as law or medicine. Cost was not a concern.

Though he had the ability and means to pursue his father’s suggestions, John was put off by the effort needed to accomplish what was suggested. However, it was a given that he would go to college. He attended the University of Minnesota and earned a BA in history. He took part in the Navy ROTC program at the university and after graduating took flight training at Pensacola, flying F9F fighters during his active-duty obligation. The navy service and family connections got John a job with DAC in Government Systems Marketing Support.

John spent much of his time in Washington and had appropriated an unused space in the DAC Washington office for his own use. John had a way of working the system for his own benefit.

John had a wife and two children who didn’t see much of him since he spent so much time in Washington. He was a people person and enjoyed entertaining customers visiting Minneapolis or when he visited out-of-town customers. His wife didn’t complain but had mentioned at times and in different ways that she wished he didn’t have to work so hard and could spend more time with the family. John considered himself to be a good provider and felt that satisfied his primary family obligation.

Dan found John Forsum ensconced in a small office outside of the DAC Government Systems office area in a larger DAC Commercial Systems Marketing area in the building. They introduced themselves. John explained his isolated office space. “My real office is in Minneapolis, but most of my business is in Washington, so I appropriated this office.”

“Per diem expenses paid?” Dan asked.

“Of course,” John replied.

“What a deal!” The two of them took an immediate liking to each other.

Dan explained why he had come looking for John. “John, I’m looking for somebody in our organization who knows something about NASA or has contacts in NASA. No luck so far. They tell me Government Systems hasn’t done any business with NASA but said I should talk to John Forsum anyway.”

John laughed. “That sounds like a hell of a recommendation.”

Dan agreed. “That’s what I thought, but here I am.”

They talked about life in general for a while before John returned to the subject at hand. “I’m thinking,” he said, “of an old drinking buddy I knew when I was in the navy. I flew wing with him in Korea. Pete Winter—he was crazy. I haven’t kept in contact with him, but I understand he has risen to a level of some importance in NASA. Might be worth a try.”

Dan laughed. “I would call that a shot in the dark, not a contact. I’m assuming you’ll get right on it.”

John located his old wing mate. Not too hard to do if the person you’re looking for is on an upper level in the NASA command structure. Pete’s office was in Houston, where the space center was being built, but he visited Washington regularly. They agreed to meet the following week, when Pete would be in Washington. They met at a favorite restaurant for contractors and government people procuring items for the military or NASA programs. It was expensive, a plus for the government people since the contractors always picked up the check. They had a substantial lunch and a drink or two and talked about life on a carrier and their favorite liberty ports. Eventually John moved the discussion to the moon landing and what part Pete was playing in the program.

“My concern is prelaunch checkout,” Pete replied. “Making sure everything is working before we launch.”

“Sounds like a good idea. After launch it’s a little late to find a problem. What you guys are attempting seems out of this world. A lot of people, including myself, wonder if this is possible. I know you have that big rocket, the Atlas, but I don’t think you will be landing it on the moon.”

“Some physicists at Redstone have come up with the way it’s going to be done,” Pete replied. “When I heard how they were planning to do it, my first reaction was there is no way that will work. NASA has put together an animation that shows how it is to be done. They say it isn’t just the best way to do it, it’s the only way to do it. It looks scarier than flying an F9 off a carrier. A spacecraft that will carry three people with hardly space for two will fly to the moon and then orbit around it. This spacecraft has a moon lander attached to it. While the spacecraft orbits the moon, the lander with two astronauts in it will be detached and descend and land on the moon. After they land, they will look around and walk around for a while and plant a flag. Then they get back in their lander, take off, and rendezvous with the orbiting spacecraft, which then returns to earth. They splash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where they hope somebody will pick them up.” 

“What are the odds of that happening?” John asked. “Don’t know if I would trust those physicists if I was an astronaut. Imagine being in that lander. Say you bang up the lander, can’t take off. You’re done. Nobody you can call for help. Maybe you do get off the moon and then can’t connect with the spacecraft. Nobody has ever done that for real before.”

Pete agreed. “But the physicists say they have the math that proves that it can be done the way they are describing it. Astronauts are lining up and clamoring to make the trip. Go figure. Humans are weird animals.”

“Anyway,” John said, “I’m not here to criticize the Redstone physicists. I’m here to see if there is anything the company I represent can contribute to this crazy plan.”

“For starters,” Pete said, “wherever possible, we are looking for off-the-shelf hardware that can do the job. Space used to be about the future. The moon shot is about today. It has to be done with today’s technology. Main reason for that is we have to beat the Russians, so there’s no time to invent new things. We are going to use off-the-shelf components as much as possible.”

John asked, “You going to use off-the-shelf computers?”

“Everything is on the table,” Pete replied. “Computers are key to an automated pre-launch checkout system. We would like to find one that can do the job. At the same time, we don’t want to compromise. That computer and every other component in the checkout system must be as good as we can make it. We want to ensure everything is working perfectly on that bird when it’s launched.”

John guessed the astronauts would second that idea. “Who is looking for these off-the-shelf components?” he asked.

Pete said, “NASA’s Preflight Operations, located in Daytona, is scouring the country for off-the-shelf components, computers being one of them.” He volunteered to look up who John needed to contact in Preflight to discuss computers.

John felt like he had hit a home run when he left the meeting. Optimism was a necessary characteristic for anyone marketing to the federal government’s military and space markets; otherwise it could be a career full of disappointments. John had been doing all right during the six years he’d been at DAC. He had participated in putting together proposal after proposal. Small ones, big ones, proposals they should have won, proposals that shouldn’t have been bid on, and some that they won. However, he had not won a big one, like one that could keep Government Systems busy for years and lead to other NASA contracts. John believed the moon program could be a big win, and winning a big one was what every marketing person in the business hoped for, the kind that could keep the division Systems Division in business for years and, as a side benefit, keep John employed.

Pete gave John Ben Hauge’s name in Preflight Operations, and John passed the information to Dan Daggart, who contacted Ben. Ben had a loud, intimidating telephone voice but sounded interested in having DAC describe how they could satisfy the computer requirements.

Dan mentioned the DAC6A as a possibility. Ben had heard about the computer and said they were using it in the Gemini program.

Technical details weren’t Dan’s strength, but he knew some of the highlights of the DAC6A. Dan described it as a mini computer that, although small, could run FORTRAN, so was pretty capable. Dan asked if NASA had documented the requirements for the computer they were looking for.

“We have,” Ben replied. “They are in a state of flux but should be good enough to figure out what the computer has to do. I’ll send you a copy. What kind of price we talking about for the DAC6A?”

“The basic unit is about fifty thousand dollars,” Dan replied.

Ben sounded surprised. “That’s interesting,” he said.

They agreed to meet in Daytona in January 1962 so DAC could pitch their computer solution.

John and Dan huddled. They needed a budget, and they needed technical people who knew something about computers. John and Dan could recognize a computer if they saw one, but that was about the level of their knowledge on the subject.

John planned to work on lining up the technical people they would need. Dan would come to Minneapolis, despite the approaching winter, to help obtain the funds they’d need to pursue the opportunity.

John talked to Max Heimer, manager of Government Systems Design, about support for the NASA opportunity.

“This another one of your wild goose chases?” Max asked.

John and Max had worked together often, and their communications were informal, direct, and unfiltered.

“I’m going to win a contract so you can keep your job.” John replied. “I’ll need some of your best people for this job.”

Max wasn’t impressed. “Show me what we need to do, and I’ll tell you who we have available to work on it.”

John handed Max a copy of the draft computer requirements that NASA’s Ben Hauge had sent to Dan Daggart.

“You got a charge number?” Max asked.

“Charge overhead while I get a number approved.”

“Easier to get a proposal number than charge to overhead.”

“Jeez, how many hours do you need? We mentioned the DAC6A as a candidate, the only thing we could think of. While you are eating your lunch, scan the requirements and figure out if the DAC6A can do the job. If it can’t, then we’ll have figure out what we have to do to make the DAC6 able to do the job or find something else that will work.”

“Okay. Means I’ll miss playing duplicate bridge during lunch. You’ll owe me.”

“Like I said, I’ll get us a contract so you can keep your job.”

The next morning, John checked with Max to see what he had learned about the requirements.

Max sat in his office drinking his first cup of coffee from the department party-sized percolator. Max was and looked like a consummate engineer: in need of a haircut, wearing horn-rim glasses, a tie with minor food stains, a pocket protector with two number-two pencils and a six-inch slide rule. He looked slightly malnourished and seemed to look past you when he talked to you.

He greeted John. “Hell, I was wasting my time. If you had read a page or two of the requirements, even you could have figured out the DAC6A wouldn’t cut it.”

“True, but I had to get an expert opinion.”

“Okay. So if you are serious about this, you will have to bring a logic guy and a programmer in, plus a memory guy and a guy to concentrate on the input-output peripherals. Oh, and a mechanical guy. Everything will have to be repackaged. Even the cabinet colors need to be coordinated with the rest of the preflight checkout system. You can save the components—most circuit boards are off-the-shelf—and memory modules design will have to be modified. All of the logic for the computer, memory and input out modules will be original design. Everything else has to be put together in a different way. What I’m describing is what we need to invent in order to meet NASA’s requirements. Then calculate the nonrecurring and recurring costs to put together a prototype and fourteen acceptance checkout equipment production computer systems. Don’t know if division management will spend that kind of money on something they have never heard about before. It might be some NASA engineer’s wet dream. Oh, I would guess twelve-bit word the DAC6A uses isn’t going to work because there may not be enough bits in the word for all of the new instructions.”

“Sounds like you are designing something from scratch. Where does the DAC6A fit in?” John asked.

“Maybe we can save the logo—not much else. They are asking for complete redundancy between two main frames with remote memories shared by both computers and two redundant input-output modules with redundant peripherals shared by both computer systems. It’s quite a maze. They describe an interrupt system that sounds like a jig saw puzzle. We need sixteen-thousand-byte core memories in the computer main frames and double that in the remote memory modules. This is not a DAC6A.”

“How in hell are we going to sell something like you describe as off-the-shelf?”

“Want my take on this off-the-shelf thing?” Max asked. He then proceeded without an answer to his question. “Well, somebody up there, way up there, decided they could save a lot of money and time if they got all the stuff they needed to check the rocket, the space capsule, and the moon lander with off-the-shelf equipment. Just hook all those off-the-shelf things together and turn the power on. At the same time, some engineers down at the bottom, way down at the bottom, are figuring out the details of how to check out this spacecraft and everything associated with it to make sure it is working perfectly before it blasts off for the moon. Those engineers don’t care how the hardware to do this is procured. They just care that it’s able to do what it has to do.”

“Okay,” John said. “So how does that solve the off-the-shelf problem for us?”

“That’s your part to figure out,” Max replied. “One thing I can assure you is that our competition hasn’t anything off-the-shelf that can meet those requirements either.”

John met Dan when he arrived to help sell the program to division management. He informed Dan that things were becoming a little complicated.

“How’s that?” Dan asked.

“The NASA computer requirements and DAC6A have nothing in common,” John replied.

“Sounds like we will hafta earn our pay,” Dan said. “It’ll probably be easier to sell this to NASA than the front office.”

“What are we going to sell?” John wanted to know.

“Whatever meets NASA’s requirements,” Dan replied. “Maybe we should call it something different than DAC6A if it’s a different machine.”

They mulled that over for a while. John thought they should keep the DAC6 part of the name so it sounded more off-the-shelf. Dan agreed. They named it the DAC6G, the “G” denoting its Government Systems connection.

Management did authorize the money to configure a system to meet the NASA’s computer requirements and to cost it out. The proposal crew worked over the holidays to nail down the design concepts. They decided that they needed an extra bit in the computer word size to accommodate the instruction set. They used the circuit components and many of the circuit boards in the DAC6A. Several new circuit boards needed to be developed. The memory modules had to be redesigned to accommodate the thirteen-bit word. New software to test and verify the new computer design was required. The biggest cost item was the logic design needed to make the hardware perform as needed. And finally, everything had to be repackaged to meet NASA’s requirement for standard cabinet design.

The cost estimates came together; marketing and program managers battled with production and engineering managers to keep the costs down. The recurring price to NASA for an ACE computer system came in at approximately two hundred thousand dollars with normal markups, no development costs included.

John and Dan worked the NASA connections they had and determined that NASA had budgeted about half what Government Systems estimated the recurring cost would be. They also determined that many of the budget estimates for the moon landing program were derived by throwing numbers at a wall; if they stuck, NASA used them. So, numbers were flexible. They banked on Max Heimer’s guess that meeting the requirements was more important than NASA cost estimates.

John and Dan were confident the numbers Government Systems had produced were reasonable and justifiable for what NASA was asking for. The numbers had been massaged as much as they could be. To manufacture something that met NASA’s requirements would cost NASA two hundred thousand dollars, not including development costs.

Again, based on what they could find out from NASA contacts and their gut feelings, John and Dan concluded NASA would pay the development costs for the stand-alone memory and I/O modules. However, NASA would assume they were receiving a modified DAC6A computer as the main frame for the ACE computer system and would not pay directly for any of its development cost—despite the fact that nothing resembling what was being proposed had ever been built before.

Development costs for the main frame computer were estimated at a million dollars. Marketing gurus John Forsum and Dan Daggart had a million-dollar problem.

They decided they should plan a long lunch at one of the 494 watering holes to help concentrate their thinking. They invited Max Heimer, the design manager, to join them, but he declined, opting to play duplicate bridge during lunch.

They started on their second martinis before confronting their problem.

John mentioned that the two main frame computers in each system would make the problem a little easier.

Dan agreed. “How many times does twenty-eight go into a million? I was never any good at math.”

John got out a pen, made the calculation on a napkin. “It’s a big number—about thirty-seven thousand times.”

Dan said, “You know what we have to do. We need to have a bigger number in the denominator. We need to sell this computer to more customers.”

John had been down this road before but not in the direct line of fire. “Government Systems isn’t in that line of business. Government Systems doesn’t invest company money to develop products. The last people who tried that aren’t around anymore. This is not a commercial product. We aren’t in that market.”

The martinis were slowing down Dan’s thinking. Finally, he asked John, “What do we get if we divide the million by fifty?”

John, apparently still alert, rebounded with, “Twenty thousand,” without making the calculation.

“That’s the number we will use,” Dan declared.

“Didn’t you hear me?” John asked. “We don’t do that kind of thing in Government Systems.”

Dan, who apparently wasn’t paying attention, replied, “We’ll have Commercial put it in their catalog.”

John wanted to believe Dan. He wanted to believe that Max Heimer and his crew had come up with something that could be sold despite Government Systems’ past failures to do similar things. Despite his doubts he began exploring the path Dan was leading them down.

John pointed out that even if they did what Dan was suggesting, they would exceed the target price of two hundred thousand dollars.

“But by less,” Dan replied. “It could be manageable. We could massage the numbers some more. Management could take less net, maybe exceed the target by, say, five thousand.”

John pointed out that in the real world, management wouldn’t gamble a half a million dollars to win this contract. “They aren’t that dumb or desperate.”

“I’m not sure about the last part of what you just said,” Dan replied. “They are in pretty bad need of some new business. I move we amortize the DAC6G nonrecurring costs over fifty units and see where the chips fall.”

John didn’t agree, but his mind was burdened by the three martinis he’d recently consumed. He couldn’t come up with anything better than Dan was proposing.

“Remember,” Dan said, “we are in this together. We are going to convince management to do what they need to do to win this contract.”

John wasn’t focused on what Dan was saying. He was thinking about what he would do when he was fired.

Before leaving the restaurant, John sketched their plan on a napkin. “Never going to remember what we talked about when we get back to the office.”

DAC Government Systems Division was headed by a general manager named Robert Glassman, who had held that position for a little over a year. The tenure of general managers in the Government Systems Division had a tendency to be short lived. Competition for government contracts in the defense and technology business was brutal. Government Systems Division general managers were expected to grow the business and profits in that competitive market. Historically, general managers had been able to grow the business or the profits but not both simultaneously. Bidding low might grow the business but hurt profits, while maintaining profits might cost the business growth.

Glassman felt confident enough that he could be successful that he had moved his family from Boston to the Twin Cities and bought a home in a tony suburb—in spite of the fact that Glassman had already moved his family several times while moving from company to company. During that process, he had moved up from engineer to division management level in the last two companies where he had worked. That was a very vulnerable management level, with high casualties when results upper management wanted were missed.

The pressure of the job had left its marks on Robert Glassman. In his fifties, he was prematurely gray, smoked heavily, and had not tried to remain physically fit and succeeded. However, he maintained a dominating presence in the space he occupied. Managing was his natural habitat and where he wanted to be.

Glassman had been kept informed of the ACE opportunity and the latest developments, as had the staff that would be approving the design and cost estimates. Glassman had a computer background and understood that the redundant capabilities being proposed would provide computer system reliability not previously feasible.

Goldman and his staff gathered in early January to review the final design and prices the division had worked up to present to NASA in Daytona the following week.

Max Heimer, system design manager, presented the final design information. Max had become enamored with what his design team had come up with, and it showed in his presentation. It was a system he would like to see built.

Glassman and staff didn’t ask a lot of questions about the design or capabilities of the computer and seemed satisfied with what they were shown.

John Forsum delivered the cost and price part of the presentation. The first item projected on the screen was a recurring price for an ACE computer system of 212,000 dollars.

John and Dan had hoped to squeeze more cost out of operations, but the costs had been squeezed to the point where there was no squeeze left. Program Management cut an assistant and contributed a three-thousand-dollar reduction to the recurring cost. They arbitrarily reduced the fee by five thousand dollars to cut the recurring price down to 212,000 dollars, which didn’t raise any alarms from management; nor did exceeding the original price goal by twelve thousand dollars raise any questions. The nonrecurring development cost for the external memory and I/O units were included in the bid as expected. However, the development cost for the DAC6G mainframe didn’t show up anywhere.

“Did you forget something?” Glassman asked, “The cost of the mainframe. That has to be a big chunk of it.”

John explained to Glassman and his staff that NASA expected the DAC6G to be off-the-shelf and to not have to pay for the development of that aspect of the ACE system. Therefore, the estimated million-dollar development cost of the DAC6G would be amortized at twenty thousand dollars per unit sold over fifty units.

At that point in the presentation, a stunned look appeared on Glassman’s face, and the staff exchanged surprised looks.

“Why?” Glassman asked. “Why is the DAC6G development being amortized over fifty units? I believe NASA is buying fourteen production systems.”

John explained that there were two DAC6G computers in each ACE system, for a total of twenty-eight computers and that NASA was looking for off-the-shelf hardware where possible; the DAC6G had been promoted as off-the-shelf. Marketing was projecting that other military, NASA, and commercial applications would make the DAC6G a contender for systems needing high fail-safe reliability.

“When did twenty-eight become fifty?” Glassman asked.

Once again, John explained, “NASA is expecting the DAC6G to be off-the-shelf, and if we include all of the nonrecurring features in the DAC6G price we will not be competitive.”

“Who is we?” Glassman asked.

The question made John realize that the “we” had been Dan and himself. They had been doing the NASA briefings and planting the idea that the “G” version of the DAC6 was off-the-shelf.

“Well, a lot of people” John replied.

“Be more specific. I’d like to know who I need to fire.”

John felt like he was taking part in a circular firing squad that would include Glassman as well as underlings such as himself. John didn’t answer the question directly. His mind was rebelling. Why am I putting my job in jeopardy by trying to convince the division what a good deal winning the ACE contract would be? Meanwhile his mouth went on talking. “DAC has all but got this contract wrapped up if it comes in with a competitive price. The division needs this contract, and we can win it. We just have to have the guts to do what we have to do to win it.”

Glassman wasn’t buying what John’s mouth was selling. He wanted to know exactly who would buy the other twenty-two computers.

John and Dan had anticipated Glassman’s question and had prepared an analysis of the market potential for the DAC6G that justified the fifty-unit amortization. They didn’t have the time or money to do a real analysis, so between them they wrote one, based on their collective knowledge, common sense, and what they thought would sell.

Dan distributed a copy of the analysis to Glassman and the rest of the staff. The top page of the analysis was a summary of the underlying details.

Dan took over the presentation to explain the analysis. Dan had the advantage of not being threatened by Glassman since he reported to a different management chain. Of course, during any management explosion there was always the danger of being hit by stray shrapnel.

The analysis summary provided an optimistic assessment of the DAC6G market potential. It described potential military and NASA applications and applications in the commercial financial market. It also pointed to a market of standalone computers in the hundred-thousand-dollar price range.

Glassman didn’t appear to be hearing any of it. His voice became louder as he asked, “What in hell are you guys thinking? We don’t have a budget for carrying any of the development cost on the books. Government Systems isn’t in that kind of business.”

Dan didn’t like the way the meeting was going. The DAC inside track on the procurement was about to be scuttled because of how the company was organized. He and John had worked hard and smart on this procurement. Okay, so maybe they sold something DAC didn’t exactly have, but it wasn’t something that couldn’t be done. Okay, DAC needed to take some financial risk to ensure that it sewed up the procurement. What else is new? It’s that kind of business.

Dan practiced remaining cool and calm during customer and management presentations regardless of the circumstances, He believed this was more effective than debating issues on the fly or displaying anger. However, in this meeting on this particular day, Dan lost his cool. “Excuse me,” he said. “John and I have been busting our butts on this job, and we know we can win it. Because our nearly off-the-shelf computer can satisfy the ACE system requirement, we are in a favored position to win this program. If we include the full DAC6G development cost in our proposal, we lose that advantage. This is a big chunk of business for our division. It establishes DAC as a NASA supplier for a significant historical event. I know and everyone in this room knows this division is starving for new business, and this is a solution.”

“Nearly off-the-shelf,” Glassman huffed. “The numbers don’t support that.”

However, Dan’s last argument touched Glassman in a vulnerable place. The ACE program would be a big chunk of business for the division, something needed and needed soon to replace programs being completed and phasing out. Winning would, as usual, entail financial and technical risks. These thoughts caused Glassman to dismiss the presentation team from the conference room, saying that he and his staff would discuss the proposal. They would call Dan and John back after they concluded the meeting.

Two hours later, Dan and John were called back into the conference room and told the decision had been made to approve the ACE proposal as prepared, on condition that DAC Defense Group Management would support the amortization of the DAC6G development cost and that marketing would commit to selling at least twenty-two DAC6Gs to other customers as a priority.

Getting the marketing commitment would not be a problem. They would commit to selling refrigerators to Eskimos if asked. Defense Group Management was a different matter. Permission was granted eventually, but Glassman was made aware that his job depended on the sale of fifty or more DAC6G computers. In turn, Glassman assured John Forsum that John’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty or more DAC6G computers.

DAC Government Systems Division won the ACE computer system contract and proceeded to meet a very tight schedule. They had less than two years to deliver the prototype, serial zero, to the Cape early in 1964, where it would be used to verify computer programs. Many long days and nights and weekends were spent by DAC employees. They met the schedule. In July of 1964, the components of the first production ACE system were shipped to North American in Downey, California, where it was used to check out Apollo spacecraft. Thirteen additional ACE systems were supplied to NASA. Two of them went to Downey, three to the Grumman Bethpage plant to check out the moon lander, two to Houston, and six to the Cape.

While the DAC Government Division scrambled to fulfill the requirements of the ACE contract, Dan and John scrambled to fulfill the sale of an additional twenty-two DAC6G computers.

When the prototype ACE system was being installed early in 1964, they had not succeeded in inking a contract for a single DAC6G nor for a redundant system like the one used in the ACE system. John and Dan’s efforts found they couldn’t identify a single solid prospect for use an ACE-type system or for a stand-alone DAC6G computer in any military or NASA programs.

“Maybe we should have studied this a little before coming up with that fifty number,” John suggested at one of their numerous come-to-Jesus meetings at a local bar near the DAC Washington office.

“Not necessarily,” Dan replied. “We have to go with what we have, which is basically a pretty impressive commercial computer at a reasonable price with a lot of expansion and redundancy capability.”

“And we have no contacts in the commercial world. DAC commercial doesn’t want anything to do with it,” John replied. “Maybe putting an IBM name plate on the DAC6G would help.”

Although handicapped by their lack of commercial computer sales experience,John and Dan sold two ACE-type systems to a Wall Street financial firm that liked the reliability potential of the highly redundant system. However, the four DAC6Gs that were part of the systems fell far short of the twenty-two needed to satisfy the Defense Group Management requirement.

True to the stipulation that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers by the end of the ACE program, he was invited to seek his opportunities at a place other than DAC. However, before Glassman had been given the opportunity to leave, he had provided the same opportunity to John Forsum. He would have done the same for Dan Daggart, but Dan reported to a different chain of command.

John soon found a similar position with another defense industry company in St. Louis, and he put DAC and the moon landing business behind him. At the same time, John resolved not to let a job that might not have his best interests in mind rule his life. His priority became family, which the family noticed and appreciated. He was home most evenings, became involved in the children’s activities, and remembered birthdays and anniversaries.

On July 20, 1969, he was visiting a company on Long Island, New York. After an early afternoon meeting, he went to Kennedy Airport to catch a plane that would take him back to St. Louis. While walking through the airport lobby, he noticed people crowding around a TV monitor. It reminded him that the moon landing was to happen that day and here it was, pictures from the Eagle as the lunar lander settled down on the moon at the Tranquility Base. John felt a strong reaction to the scene on the TV monitor.

He was watching a historic moment in human experience in real time, and he had contributed to making that happen. Man had broken free of the earth’s gravitational force and traveled into space to land on another celestial body. Ordinary people doing ordinary things working together can achieve extraordinary things. Such a thing had occurred to cause this moment that would never be forgotten by humankind.

All the ups and downs of that experience, even losing his job and having to move to different city, didn’t matter at that moment.

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