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The Computer – “The Right Stuff” – Tom Wolfe

July 24th, 2011 · No Comments · Science

It was only thanks to a recent invention, the high-speed electronic computer, that Project Mercury was feasible at all. There was an analogy here with the great Admiral of the Seas himself, Columbus. It was only thanks to a recent invention of his day, the magnetic compass, that Columbus had dared to sail across the Atlantic. Until then ships had stayed close to the great land masses for even the longest voyages. Likewise, putting a man into space the quick and dirty way without high-speed computers was unthinkable. Such computers had not been in production before 1951, and yet here it was, 1960 and engineers were already devising systems for guiding rockets into space, through the use of computers built into the engines and connected to accelerometers, for monitoring the temperature, pressure, oxygen supply, and other vital conditions of the Mercury capsule and for triggering safety procedures automatically—meaning they were creating, with computers, systems in which machines could communicate with one another, make decisions, take action, all with tremendous speed and accuracy… Oh, genius-engineers!

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