Moon Landing

Posted on 01/16/2019. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

A Short Story

 

This is one of the short story’s to be included in a book of short stories based on that cold war that existed between Russia and the United States during a period from the late 1940’s to late 1980’s. In reflecting back over that time the author realized that he had spent much of his adult life involved in work or events associated with the cold war. This included seven years he served in the United States Navy and work he did during the thirty-three years as an electrical engineer in the defense industry. All of the stories were inspired by incidents that the author was aware of or involved in could have occurred during that time.

 

 

                                                       

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 of 1961. Part of the Cold War competition involved developing a superior capability in space and 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 execute landing men on the moon and retuning them safely to earth.

The United States industrial complex took notice immediately 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 capabilities 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 the Data Action Corporation (DAC) Government Systems Division located in Minneapolis Minnesota. The DAC Government Systems management asked their Washington marketing people to beat the bushes to see if they could find opportunities related to the moon landing program.

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

Dan had been hired recently. His resume indicated he had been knocking around Washington for a while working for mostly tech companies pitching equipment and services to federal agencies or prime contractors for use in 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 and decided to explore other options. Despite the difficulties the parents were experiencing, the family moonshine business had provided for a substantial sum of assets safely hidden from Federal Agent eyes which could be tapped by Dan.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 said something to do with technology would be good. However, the only thing the college had close to technology 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, average build, 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 there was a group in the DAC Government Systems Division designated as Marketing Support. It was made up mostly of engineers that found their expertize was not in design, analysis, documenting, trouble shooting of inanimate objects, but more into 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 liked and were put into Marketing Support where they were often a poor fit. And there always seemed to be few misfits in Marketing Support gamming the system, talking the talk but faking their level of expertise.

As a starting point in Dan’s efforts to find support for his NASA efforts, he decided to contact DAC Marketing Support to see if they had any people that had any NASA experience or contacts.  Things didn’t look promising, but Bert Johonson, Manager of DAC Government Systems Marketing Support thought that a person collocated at the Washington office at the time might have some ideas about NASA. His name is John Forsum.   

John Forsum was a Minneapolis native whose family had money. John never wanted for much. He attended University of Minnesota and earned a BA in history. He took part in the Navy Officer Training Corps while in college and took flight training and flew F9F fighters during his active duty obligation. The navy service and 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 and long hours at work and with customers when in Minneapolis.  He was a people person and enjoyed entertaining customers visiting Minneapolis or when he visited customers out of town.  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 and in what was a larger DAC Commercial Systems Marketing part of 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 for my own use; spend much of my time in Washington.”

“Per diem expenses paid?” Dan asked.

“Of course,” John replied.

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

Dan explained why he had come looking for John. “John, I’m looking for some somebody in our organization that knows something about NASA, has contacts in NASA. No luck so far. They tell me Government Systems hasn’t done any business with NASA but tell me to 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 got back to the subject at hand. “I’m thinking,” he said, “Of an old drinking buddy 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 at an upper level in the NASA command structure. Pete had his office in Houston where the Space Center was being built but he visited Washington regularly, so 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 favorite liberty ports. Eventually John moved the discussion to the moon landing and what part Pete was playing in the program.

“My concern is pre-launch 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 first 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 about it, looks scarier than flying an F9 off a carrier. The physicists at Redstone say it isn’t only the best way to do it; it’s the only way to do it. They have this spacecraft that will carry three people with hardly space for two that will fly to the moon and then orbit around it. This spacecraft has a moon lander attached to it. While the space craft orbits the moon the lander will be detached with two astronauts in it 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 and 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 physicist 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 up with the spacecraft. Nobody had ever done this for real before. You’re done.”

Pete agreed but the physicists say they have the math that proves that it can be done the way they are describing it, and astronauts are lining and clamoring to make the trip. “Go figure.”

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

“For starters,” Pete replied, “We are looking for off-the-shelf hardware that can do the job where ever possible. Space used to be about the future, the moon shot is about today. It’s has to be done today 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 about computers, “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 has to 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,” John asked.

 Pete said NASA’s Preflight Operations located in Daytona was scouring the country looking for components off-the-shelf. Computers was one of them. Pete volunteered to look up who John needed to contact in Preflight to discuss computers with.

John felt like he had hit a home run when he left the meeting with Pete. Optimism was a necessary characteristic for those marketing to the federal government military and space markets; otherwise it could be a career of disappointments. John had been spinning his wheels during the six years he had been at DAC, He had participated in putting together proposal after proposal. Small ones, big ones, proposals they should have won, proposals they shouldn’t have bid on. John felt the moon program could be a big win. Winning a big one was what every marketing person in the business hoped for, the kind of contract that could keep the Government Systems Division in business for years.

Dan contacted Ben Hauge, the person in Preflight Operations that Pete Winter had referred them to. Ben had a loud intimidating telephone voice but sounded interested in having DAC describe what they had to satisfy the computer requirement.

Dan mentioned the DAC6A as a possibility. Ben had heard about the computer, Said they were using it on the Gemini program.

Technical details weren’t Dan’s strength but knew some of the highlights of the DAC6A. Dan described it as a small computer, a mini computer but it can run FORTRAN so is 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 $50, 000,” Dan replied.

 Ben acted surprised “That’s interesting,” He said.

They agreed on a date to meet in Daytona in January 1962 when 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 would work on lining up the technical people they would need. Dan would come to Minneapolis, despite an approaching winter, to help get the funds they would 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.

“I’m going to get 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 who we have available to work on it.

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

John handed Max a copy of the draft computer requirements that NASA Ben Hauge had sent to Dan Dagart

“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.”

“Jes, how many hours do you need? We have mentioned the DAC6A as a candidate, only thing we could think of. While you are eating your lunch you can 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 something else that will work.”

 “OK. 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 perk. Max was and looked like the consummate engineer. Horned rim glasses, in need of a haircut, tie with minor food stains, a pocket protector with two number two pencils and a six inch slid 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 to the requirements even you could have figured out the DAC6A wouldn’t cut it.”

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

“OK, so now if you are serious about this you will have to put a logic guy and a programmer on and a memory guy and a guy to concentrate on the input output peripherals, oh and a mechanical, everything will have to be repackaged. Even the cabinet colors will be coordinated with the rest of the preflight checkout system. You can say the components, most circuit boards and memory modules are off-the-shelf but everything 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 the requirements and then cost the non-recurring and recurring cost to put together a prototype and fourteen Acceptance Checkout Equipment (ACE) 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, and the twelve bite word the DAC6A uses, not going to work. Because this computer has to run in a DAC6A mode and in the new configuration mode, there are not 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 (I/O) modules with redundant peripherals shared by both computer systems. It’s quiet a maze. They describe an interrupt system that has to be invented. We need 16,000 (16K) 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. 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, 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 blast off for the moon, Those engineers don’t care how the hardware to do this is procured, they just care that it able to do what it has to do.”

“Ok,” 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 of is that 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, and informed him things were getting 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 be calling it something different that the 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 and they named it the DAC6G, the “G” denoting its Government Systems connection.

 

Management did authorize spending 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 used circuit components, circuit boards and memory modules from commercial systems that were in production. Some new circuit boards would have to be developed. The word length was modified. Another bit was added to make it a thirteen bit machine to handle the expanded instruction set. Everything had to be repackaged to meet NASA’s requirement for standard cabinet design.

 

The cost numbers had come together with marketing and program managers fighting with the production and engineering managers to keep the costs down.  Recurring price to NASA for an ACE computer system came in at approximately $200,000 with normal markups and with 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 what the recurring cost would be. They had also determined that many of the budget estimates for the Moon Landing program were derived by throwing numbers at a wall and if they stuck NASA used them. So, those were flexible numbers and bought Max Heimer’s guess that meeting the requirements were more important than NASA cost estimates.

John and Dan knew the numbers Government Systems had come up were reasonable and justifiable for what NASA was asking for. The numbers had been messaged as much as they could be. To manufacture something that met NASA’s requirements would cost NASA in the neighborhood of $200,000

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

Development cost for the main frame computer was estimated to be a million dollars. Marketing gurus John Forsum and Dan Dagart 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 and opted to play duplicate bridge during lunch.

They had started on their second martini before confronting their million dollar problem.  

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

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

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

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

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

The martinis were slowing down Dan’s thinking. Finally he asked John what we get if we divide the million by fifty.

John, apparently still alert came back with twenty thousand without doing 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 apparently wasn’t paying attention to what John was saying, replied, “We’ll have commercial put it in their catalog.”

John’s problem was that he wanted to believe Dan, he wanted to believe Max Heimer and his crew had come up with something that could be sold despite Government Systems past failures trying 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 talking about they would be exceeding the target price of $200,000.

“But by less. Dan replied. “It could be manageable, we could massage the numbers some more, management 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 non-recurring over fifty units and see where the chips fall.

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

 “Remember,” Dan was saying, “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 focusing 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 remember what we talked about when we get back to the office,” John said.

 

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

Glassman felt confident enough that he could be successful that he moved his family from Boston to the Twin Cities and bought a home in a tony suburb. That was in spite of the fact that Glassman had moved his family half a dozen times while moving from company to company. During that process he had moved up from engineer to a division management level in the last two companies where he had worked. That was level in management is somewhat equivalent to a Marine First Lieutenant leading an infantry platoon in combat. High casualties.

The pressure of the job had left its marks on Robert Glassman. In his fifties, he was prematurely grey, 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 staff that would 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. He and division management were impressed by the computer system being proposed to satisfy ACE system requirements.

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

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

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

John Forsum gave the cost and price part of the presentation and the first item projected on the screen was a recurring price for a ACE computer system as $212,000.

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 had arbitrarily reduced the fee by five thousand dollars to get the recurring price down to $212,000 which didn’t raise any alarm from management, nor did exceeding the original price goal by twelve thousand dollars raise any questions. The non-recurring 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?” Goldman asked, “The cost of the computer module that has to be a big chunk of it.”

John explained to Glassman and his staff that NASA expected the DAC6G to be off shelf and not have to pay for the development of that part 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 Glassman developed a stunned look on his face and the staff exchanged surprised looks.

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

John explained there were two DAC6G computers in each ACE system for a total of twent-eight computers and that NASA is looking for off-the-shelf hardware where possible and we’ve promoted the DAC6G as off-the-shelf. Marketing is projecting that other military, NASA and commercial applications will find the DAC6G a contender for systems needing fail safe high reliability.”

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

Again John explained that we have determined NASA is expecting the DAC6G to be off the shelf and if we include all of the non-recurring in the DAC6G price we would not be competitive.

  “Who is we?” Glassman asked.

The question caused John to 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 like to know who I need to fire.”

John felt like he was taking part in a circular firing squad that would include Goldman and underlings such as himself. John didn’t answer the question directly. His mind was rebelling. It was thinking why he was putting his 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, it was saying, “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 who exactly 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 justifying the fifty unit amortization. They didn’t have the time or money to do a real analysis so between them 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 analysis was a summary of the underlying details.

Dan took over the presentation to explain the analysis much to John’s relief. 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 also applications in the commercial financial market. It also pointed to a market of standalone computers in the $100,000 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. OK, so maybe we sold something we don’t exactly have, but not something that can’t be done. OK, DAC needs to take some financial risks to ensure we sew up the procurement.  So 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, at this particular meeting on this particular day, Dan lost his cool. “Excuse me,” he said,” John and I have been busting our buts on this job and we know we can win it.  “Because of our nearly off-the-shelf computer is able to 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 in 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 always entail financial and technical risks. It was these thoughts that caused Glassman to dismiss the presentation team from the conference room and Glassman and his staff would discuss the proposal being presented. 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 were told the decision to approve the ACE proposal as prepared had been made with the provision that DAC Defense Group Management would support the amortization of the DAC6G development, and that marketing would commit to selling least twenty-two DAC6G’s 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 would be 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 his 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 weekends were spent by DAC employees and they did meet the schedule. In July of 1964 the components of the first production ACE system were shipped to North American in Downey California where it would be used to check out Apollo Spacecraft. Thirteen additional ACE systems were supplied to NASA. Two more at Downey, three at the Grumman Bethpage plant to check out the moon lander, two at Houston and six at 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 single DAC6G or for a redundant system like that being used in the ACE system. John and Dan had a pretty good handle on the military and NASA prospects and couldn’t identify one for an ACE type system.

“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.”

 “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 lack of commercial computer sales experience and DAC’s recognition as a major commercial computer supplier, two ACE type systems were sold to a Wall Street financial firm that liked the reliability potential of the highly redundant system. However, the four DAC6G’s that were part of the system was 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 for John Forsum and would have done the same for Dan Dagart 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 let a job that might not have his best interest in mind rule his life. His priority became family, which the family noticed and appreciated. He was home most evenings, got involved in the children’s activities and remembered birthdays and anniversaries.

 On 20 July 1969 he had been 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 the 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 and landed on another celestial body. Ordinary people doing ordinary things working together can-do extraordinary things. Such a thing has occurred to cause this moment that will never be forgotten by humankind.

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

 

 

Copyright © 2019 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

 

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Man on the Moon

Posted on 03/25/2016. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Apollo Lift Off

 

APOLLO MOON ROCKET LIFTOFF

Man on the Moon; A Short Story

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 of 1961. Part of the Cold War competition involved developing a superior capability in space and putting a man on the moon would be a dramatic demonstration of the United States capabilities.

The United States industrial complex took notice. This included the Data Action Corporation (DAC) Government Systems Division located in Minneapolis Minnesota. The DAC Government Systems management asked their marketing people to beat the bushes to see if they could find  opportunities related to the moon landing program.

Pete Jorden in the DAC Government Systems Washington sales office had maintained contact with NASA engineer Denny Johnson who had been a classmate at South Dakota State College where both had graduated as electrical engineers. Their relationship had been mostly social since the DAC Government Systems hadn’t been involved in any NASA programs.

Denny had grown up in a small town in western Minnesota and still had family there. His wife also came from that part of the country but they had been recently divorced. Denny, in his late thirties had an eye for attractive women and having an athletic build and strong features was in turn attractive to women. It had been a bad combination for the marriage.

Denny had spent two years in the army during World War II and went to college on the GI bill and started working for NASA when he graduated from South Dakota State. Computers were just emerging as useful devises and Denny ended up in a department evaluating computers for NASA applications. Since no entrenched computer experts existed Denny was able to move up quickly and had engineering sign off responsibility for computers his department used in its programs.

Pete called Denny and arranged for a lunch meeting.  He figured a lunch meeting with Denny would be a good place to start looking for moon landing business. Making the luncheon arrangement with Denny would be easy since Pete would be picking up the tab and they had a lot in common to talk about. Pete said he would be bringing along Ray Olson, a sales support person from Minneapolis.

Ray had recently come off a North Dakota wheat farm, made a stop at the North Dakota State College to pick up a BS in electrical engineering. He found design to be boring but marketing matched his personality and abilities perfectly. He loved to entertain customers by taking them to restaurants and hot spots locally in Minneapolis and away when visiting customers. He didn’t have a lot of technical depth but made up for it with a likable personality and enthusiasm. Ray Olson’s round face, blue eyes, blond hair and extremely fair skin made him look even younger that his thirty years. Pete Jorden on the other hand had technical credentials. He had been around the block a few times and was recognized as a capable system conceptualist. Pete wasn’t particularly social in part because he was an abstaining alcoholic and when it came to after meeting dinners and other entertainment he would often find some excuse for bringing Ray Olson out from Minneapolis to bolster that part of marketing.

They met at a K Street restaurant famous for its two hour lunches and prices to match. Lunch conversation started with Pete and Denny sharing recent information about some classmates that they had known while attending South Dakota State. Ray Olson had attended North Dakota State, and had to defend its reputation against that of South Dakota State, big rivals in sports and academics. The three had a lot in common, growing up in western Minnesota and the Dakotas, and then leaving the area after being trained as engineers, going to places where they could find work in their fields. Pete finally got around to asking Denny if he saw any need for any DAC equipment in any of the upcoming programs Denny was dealing with.

“Maybe,” Denny replied. “This moon landing thing by the end of the decade is turning NASA inside out and upside down. They are going to need a lot of stuff once they figure out what it is.”

Ray asked Denny if anyone had figured out how get to the moon and get back.

“The physicists at Redstone have come up with what they say is the best way to do it,” Denny answered. “What they call the best way sounds kind of scary to me. The lab put together a little animation that shows how it’s supposed to work. They have this spacecraft that will carry three people with hardly space for two that will fly to the moon and then orbit around it. This spacecraft has a moon lander attached to it. While the space craft orbits the moon the lander will be detached with two astronauts in it and descend and land on the moon.  After they land they will look around and walk around for a while. Then they take off and rendezvous’ with the orbiting spacecraft which then returns to earth and they splash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

“What are the odds of that happening? Ray asked. “It has to be close to zero. Don’t know if I would trust those physicist 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 up with the spacecraft. Nobody had ever done this for real before. You’re done.”

Denny agreed. “I wouldn’t give you very good odds that this will go off without a glitch or two.” Denny hesitated, and then added, “There is a small computer to be used for spacecraft checkout before launch. Got any recommendations? We would like something off-the-shelf, don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

“Sure, we have the DAC6 and DAC6A, got some information on it in my briefcase.

Denny shrugged, “I’m familiar with the DAC6’s. They are using some of them on the Gemini program. Looks like a desk.”

Pete agreed. “It’s housed in a grey office desk with the computer parts in a drawer. The company genius, Clayton Douglas, designed it one weekend when he needed and input output device for his latest’s super computer. But it’s a fully functioning computer. It’s a mini computer but lots of capability; can run FORTRAN.”

“They want redundancy, think it can it do that?”

“It might take some modes. I don’t think you will find redundancy built into any off-the-self computers. Do you have specs?

“Not really, we don’t want to design a computer. There are requirements, what the computer has to do.”

“Can you get me a copy of those?” Pete asked.

“Can do. What kind of money are we talking about for a DAC6?”

“Less than fifty thousand for the DAC6A, unmodified.”

Denny looked surprised, “Sounds interesting.”

Ray had an idea, “I’m staying overnight, want to meet for dinner somewhere, bring a copy of the requirements, maybe do the town a little.”

Denny thought that would be a good idea, “Takes care of what to do for dinner tonight.”

Pete said he wouldn’t be able to make it but would meet Ray in the morning for breakfast at eight.

 

Ray looked a little peaked the next morning. “Damn, only got a couple of hours of sleep last night.”

“Long dinner?” Pete asked.

“That Denny knows how to party, met a couple of gals he knew, things went downhill from there.”

“Glad I didn’t go; did you get the requirements information?”

“Got two, one for you and one for me. I’m wondering how to show some of the expenses for last night on my trip report.”

Pete laughed, “That’ll be a good test of your creativity.”

 

Ray Olson delivered the spacecraft checkout computer requirements to Jerry Aden the DAC Government Systems Division design engineering manager. Jerry looked Ray over with a wary eye. Jerry looked, acted like and was a typical engineer. He wore a white shirt with a tie, no coat, a pocket protector that held a number two pencil, a pen and a six inch slide rule. His hair needed a trim. Jerry didn’t consider engineers that worked in marketing or other such activities to be real engineers.

“Can you get right on this,” Ray asked, “This has potential and we have an opportunity to get our ideas in before there’s a request for proposal (RFP).”

“You got a charge number? Jerry asked.

“Charge overhead while I get a number approved.”

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

“Jes, how many hours do you need? Look, we have mentioned the DAC6A as a candidate. While you are eating your lunch you can 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 DAC6 or something else work.”

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

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

 

The next morning Ray checked with Jerry to see what he had learned about the requirements.

Jerry sat in his office drinking his first cup of coffee from the department party sized perk. He greeted Ray, “Hell, I was wasting my time. If you had read a page or two to the requirements even you could have figured out the DAC6A wouldn’t cut it.”

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

“OK, so now if you are serious about this you will have to put a logic guy and a programmer on it for a couple of days and a memory guy and an input output peripherals person on this for a day each and a couple of days for myself. That is to come up with a system concept to meet the requirements. 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.

“Sounds like you are designing something from scratch, where does the DAC6A fit in? Ray asked.

“Maybe we can save the logo, not much else; maybe some of the logic boards. They are asking for complete redundancy between two computer systems, with a common memory shared by both computers, and two redundant input output (I/O) systems with redundant peripherals. I’m not aware of any existing computer system that can do what they are asking for. They describe an interrupt system that has to be invented. We need over a 100K of core memory in the computer main frames and double that in the memory modules. This is not a DAC6A.”

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

“Your problem Ray. I don’t worry myself about those kinda problems but I’m sure no competition has anything like it off-the-shelf either.”

 

Ray brought Pete Jorden back from Washington D.C. to help convince division management to spend the money to come up with a system concept to satisfy the NASA requirements for a computer to use in the spacecraft automatic test system (ACE). Pete persuaded division management that DAC had an inside track as a computer supplier for the spacecraft ACE system. Ray got the funding and backing to pursue the perceived NASA opportunity.

When the computer system concept for the ACE system had been completed, reviewed and approved, Pete Jorden set up another meeting for Ray Olson and himself to meet with NASA’s Denny Johnson. They met in Denny’s office and Ray did an over the desk presentation of what DAC had designated as the DAC6G. It met all of the NASA ACE needs as spelled out in the requirements that Denny had provided to DAC. Ray showed a conceptual diagram that showed boxes that designated both computers interconnected with both memory boxes and two I/O boxes that connected to devices being tested and a bank of magnetic tape handlers.  Either computer could connect to either memory box which could connect to either I/O boxes.

Denny liked what he saw, said he would send information about it down to the Cape where a NASA team worked on the ACE concept. He divulged that GE will be the prime on the ACE system and they would like to develop a government funded computer system for the application. “They say there’s nothing off-the-shelf that can do the job. By the way what does the “G” in DAC6G stand for?”

“Government Systems,” Ray replied. “We are using the same circuit boards as the “A” uses, with some added types; it uses the “A” instruction set with some additions.  The memory and I/O units are new developments. We will repackage everything, no more grey office desks, lot of bright colors.

Denny wanted to know how the modes would be paid for. You know we want this off- the-shelf if possible..

Ray said the modes would be included in the unit price based on the estimated number of units to be sold. He added “You can bet it will be more than the 50K we were talking about for the DAC6A.”

Actually Ray didn’t know how the DAC6G modifications would be paid for. To include the cost in the price of the systems would mean DAC would be treating the “G” like a commercial product and amortizing the development cost over the estimated number of units to be sold. Company money would be at risk until the development costs were recovered. Government Systems Division wasn’t in that kind of business.

Pete asked the next obvious question, “How many systems would NASA need?”

“It’s been fluctuating around thirteen- fourteen systems,” Denny replied.

To Ray the number Denny mentioned wasn’t impressive although those were dual redundant systems so you could double the number but even that wouldn’t be an exciting number.  Getting management to go along with the off-the-shelf story might be a stretch.

Ray and Denny talked about dinner that evening and Pete decided to join them even though he knew it might be a long night. Pete had concerns about the NASA communities working on the ACE system not being aware of the existence of the DAC6G. Talking to Denny was kinda like preaching to the choir. The final decision about the ACE computer wouldn’t be made by him.

Denny suggested a watering hole with good food and mature clientele. During dinner and drinks and then after dinner drinks Pete drank carbonated water. Denny had put away three water and bourbon drinks and had his eyes on some of the women at the bar that appeared to be unattached. Despite Denny’s wandering interst Pete suggested talking about how to best get information about the DAC6G to NASA personnel working on the ACE program.

Denny responded by noting that the blond in a green dress sitting at the bar had been giving him the eye.

Ray checked out the blond, “Hell she’s old enough to be your mother.”

“Damn, my eyes must be going bad. Pete, what were you saying about computers?”

Pete repeated his question about how to inform NASA about the DAC6G. Denny, now on board said he would distribute the same DAC6G information he planned to send to the Cape to other NASA people involved in the ACE program.

Ray wondered if Denny could arrange to have Pete and him visit the people that would be getting the information. “Talk up the DAC6G, answer questions. How many groups are we talking about?”

“Half a dozen,” Denny replied. “We won’t have much time, the Apollo train has left the station and we have less than ten years to put a man on the moon.

 

Ray and Pete spent the next two months briefing NASA ACE system people about the DAC6G and trying to convince DAC management that this was a great opportunity for the company to become part of the Apollo program.

 

When the ACE RFP hit the streets the DAC Government Systems had no problem responding to requirements since they were written around the DAC6G system. Price was a different matter. The DAC proposal would feature the off-the-shelf DAC6G. The term off-the-shelf implied that any development cost of the DAC6G would be amortized and included in the recurring price of the DAC6G. Therein lay the conundrum. The DAC Government Systems Division was not in the business of developing products using company funds to be recovered in sale of the products developed.

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

Glassman felt confident enough that he could be successful that he moved his family to the Twin Cities and bought a home in a tony suburb.

Glassman had been kept informed of the ACE opportunity and the latest developments. Marketing claimed DAC had an inside track to supply the computer for the system. However when Glassman saw the backup for the pricing he was shocked. The non-recurring cost for the external memory and I/O units were included in the bid but the non-recurring for the DAC6G computer development did not appear. Glassman called the two men who claimed responsibility for marketing the DAC6G concept for use in the ACE system, asked them to meet him in his office the next morning.

Pete Jorden was in his Washington D.C. office when he got the call and took the red eye into Minneapolis to make the meeting. Ray Olson threw together information he thought he might need for the meeting.

Glassman greeted Pete and Ray by asking them where in hell they had buried the DAC6G development costs. Ray dug through his data and fished for some spread sheets.

While Ray searched for the spread sheets, Pete reminded Glassman that the DAC proposal was describing the DAC6G as an off-the-shelf product. NASA is familiar with the DAC6 products and the “G” is being promoted as part of the family.

Glassman, a heavy set middle aged man with a lot peaks and valleys in a rugged square face stared at Pete through deep set grey eyes. “Why?” He asked.

“NASA is looking for off-the-shelf hardware where possible and we’ve promoted the DAC6G as off-the-shelf.”

“Who is we?” Glassman asked.

The question caused Pete to realize that the “we” had been Ray 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” Pete replied.

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

At that point Ray came up with the spread sheet which showed that the DAC6G development costs had been amortized over a build of fifty units.

Glassman asked how many computers is NASA planning to buy.

“The RFQ ask for the delivery thirteen systems,” Ray replied, “Which will include twenty-six DAC6G computers.”

Glassman wanted to know who would buy the other twenty-four computers.

Ray had prepared an analysis of the market potential for the DAC6G justifying the fifty unit amortization, but the numbers were based for the most part from an input from NASA’s Denny Johnson that the price shouldn’t exceed $250 thousand.  The recurring price came out at $200 thousand and the development amortization for fifty units came to $40 thousand per unit so they priced the DAC6G at $245 thousand. It all worked out but it didn’t seem like the right answer for Glassman’s question. Ray instead talked about the analysis, the potential market.

Glassman wasn’t 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.”

Pete 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 Ray had busted their buts on this procurement. OK, so maybe we sold something we don’t exactly have, but not something that can’t be done. OK, DAC needs to take some financial risks to ensure we sew up the procurement.  So what else is new? It’s that kind of business.

Pete made an attempt to articulate his thoughts and concerns. “Because of our nearly off-the-shelf computer is able to 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.”

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

Pete moved to why DAC should want to win the program. “This is a big chunk of business for our division; it establishes DAC as a NASA supplier in a significant historical event.”

Pete’s last argument touched Glassman in a vulnerable place. The ACE program would be a big chunk of business for the division, something needed to grow the business in the near term. Winning would as always entail financial and technical risks. It was these thoughts that caused Glassman to make his decision to approve the ACE proposal as prepared with the provision that DAC Defense Group Management would support the amortization of the DAC6G development cost.

The DAC Defense Group consisted of three divisions and had the wherewithal to manage the risk of amortizing the DAC6G development. The Defense Group Management approved the proposal that had been prepared with the understanding that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers.

 

DAC Government Systems Division won the ACE computer system program and executed the program well. The DAC6G meet all of the ACE system needs, proved to be reliable and never held up a launch.

However the Government Systems Division only succeeded in selling three more dual DAC6G systems for a total of six computers. The DAC6G had proved to be an excellent computer that made technical advances in redundant computer design and use but could not find customers who needed the capabilities it provided.

True to upper management’s stipulation that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers, 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 for Ray Olson. He would have done the same for Pete Jorden but Pete reported to a different chain of command.

Ray soon found a similar position with another defense industry company in St. Louis and he put DAC and the moon landing business behind him.  On 20 July 1969 he had been 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. He remembered the moon landing was to happen that day and here it was, pictures from the Eagle as the Lunar Module settled down on the moon at the Tranquility Base. Ray felt a strong reaction to the scene on the TV monitor. He was watching a historic moment in the human experience in real time and he had contributed to making that happen. All the ups and downs of that experience, like losing his job didn’t matter at that moment. That he had been part of the team that made this happen was all that mattered.

 

 

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

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