This short article discusses the integrated circuits in the Apollo manned lunar landing program. The Apollo program played an integral part in helping establish the world market for IC’s.
It was only as recently as September 1958 that the first IC was invented by Jack Kilby ( of Texas Instruments ). This first IC , however ,had external wire connections - a severe drawback for mass production purposes. However, in 1959, Robert Noyce (Fairchild Semiconductors and later founder of Intel ) refined the process by inventing the “monolithic circuit “ - putting all components on a chip of silicon and connecting them with copper lines that were printed on an oxide layer. Thus the “microchip” was born.
It took until 1961 before the first practical commercial IC - called a NOR Gate ( comprising three transistors and a load impedance into a TO-5 'can' with 6 connection legs) - was developed and marketed. However, sales were extremely slow in those early months. On 25th May 1961 ,President Kennedy announced that America would put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the 1960's decade. This program became known as Project Apollo and was totally successful when - on the 20th July 1969 - the Apollo-11 lunar module carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed safely on the Moon. They returned safely to Earth in their Apollo command module a few days later - with their lunar orbiting companion Mike Collins .
To achieve this historic goal many new technologies were required and one of these was a small, lightweight guidance and navigation unit that could process complex trajectory equations and issue guidance commands to the Apollo spacecraft in ‘real-time’ during the flight. This required a computer called the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) - to process ,analyse and act quickly upon the rapidly changing data produced during a manned lunar mission. In August 1961 the American space agency, NASA , awarded the very first Project Apollo contract to Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) to develop the AGC guidance unit for Apollo .