Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer, IBM Part Number 6109030

Saturn V Computer Ring
"Saturn V Computer Ring"

Did you know that IBM designed the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer in the 1960th ? I didn’t until my wife and I stopped at Huntsville, Alabama, on our 4-week-trip through the South States of USA, where the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located which we visited.

IBM Team responsible for the Saturn V Instrument Unit
"IBM Team responsible for the Saturn V Instrument Unit"

IBM actually had been assigned the overall responsibility to design the Saturn V Instrument Unit and I have posted here a picture of the IBM team working on that: impressive how many people we assigned to a single project these days !

When NASA designed the Saturn V they discussed whether launch and flight of this huge rocket should be controlled by the astronauts or automatically. They came to the conclusion that stress during launch due to vibrations and noise during takeoff whould be too much for human beings so that they better design some instrument unit controlling the launch phase of Apollo missions.

This turned out to be a wise decision when the rocket was hit by electrical discharges during takeoff of Apollo 12. The Command Module where the astronauts are sitting went offline but Saturn V continued its flight without any major impacts, under control by the Instrument Unit. Later on astronauts were able to bring the Command Unit back online.

This wikipedia article about the Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC) has a link to a pdf copy of the IBM maintenance instructions where I found the IBM part number mentioned in the title of this posting.



When Albert Einstein passed away in 1955 he wasn’t sure anymore about the existence of Gravitational Waves, original predicted in 1916 on the basis of his theory of general relativity.

60 years later on September 14th, 2015, the LIGO ( Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory ) detectors in Hanford and Livingston registered a compression  strain of space by 10-19 meters, 1/10.000 times the diameter of a proton, through two 4 km long arms in which laser beams have been travelling back and forth 400 times, an event from now on becoming popular under its name GW150914. The event was caused by two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light years away from Earth, each having a solar mass of 30.

I always find it amazing what physicist discover these days and what complex machines they build to answer fundamental questions about the creation and existence of the universe. LIGO has cost 1.1 billion dollars and it took 40 years to build it.  Another even more famous example of such a machine is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built by scientists and engineers from 100 countries for 3 billion dollar – to discover the Higgs-Bosom, the last missing piece for the Standard Theory of particles.

I find it amazing what math they use and what conclusions they draw from the signals they measure, thoughts most human beings including myself never will be able to follow. They create the sort of knowledge we can only believe in, which often is just valid temporarily before it becomes overruled by new insights through even bigger and more complex machines and theories.

Source: bild der wissenschaft 4-2016

The risk of solar energy. Let’s see what will happen on Match 20th.


I never thought about this so far, but living with solar energy does come with some risk too. A big risk will be the eclipse of the sun coming up on March 20th, when between 9:30 and 12:00 in the morning here in Germany up to 82 % of the sun will be covered by a shadow. For our energy providers this means that at the beginning energy production will decrease by 12.000 MW, so other power plants will have to jump in quickly to cover that. Continuous energy supply is a must have for many big industries in Germany.

A bigger risk will be the 19.000 MW suddenly streaming into our net some hours later ( when sun shines much more than in the morning ), coming from the 1 million solar collectors availabe in Germany. 19.000 MW, that would be the output of 14 large nuclear plants !

Hopefully weather won’t be too nice at that days, a cloudy sky could help much to mitigate the problem.

After this challenging test the next will come up in 2048, when the next solar eclipse of this magnitude will show up.

Let’s keep fingers crossed. Hopefully it will be like the year 2000 problem where finally nothing serious happened.

Source "Wir sind angespannt": Sonnenfinsternis birgt Blackout-Gefahr" ( )

Energy 2011-2020, and beyond – Wind Energy

And here some more facts from "bild der wissenschaft" about wind energy:

. Between 1999 and 2011 installed power went up from 5 to 30 gigawatt in Germany.
. Estimation shows double increase until 2020.
. First commercial German offshore wind park went live this month: 21 wind turbines produce 185 gigawatt hours per year, sufficient to support 50.000 households.
. UK already has more than a dozen wind parks. The largest one consists of 102 turbines delivering 370 megawatt electrical power.
. A larger wind park is planned at the water mouth of river Themse: "London Array" is supposed to produce 1 gigawatt electrical power.
. In year 2020 one fourth of electrical energy for UK is supposed to be delivered by wind parks.
. Rotor diameter, 120 meter today, might reach 200 meter in 2020.
. Electrical power per turbine will go up from 10 megawatt today to 20 megawatt in 2020.

Energy 2011-2020, and beyond

Heating & cooling, transportation & internet, entertainment & cooking – where would we be without all of this ? We: 7 billion people today, may be 9 billion in the year 2050.
No wonder "energy" again and again becomes the most important topic in "bild der wissenschaft", my monthly science read.
Here is a collection of a few interesting facts around that topic from the latest edition:

. In 2011 7500 megawatt of electric power based on photovoltaic systems have been installed in Germany, getting us up to 24 gigawatt – one third of what is installed world-wide.

. 25 gigawatt have been installed world-wide in 2011

. It has been said that silicium technology will be dead for photovoltaic soon, but technology innovation in this sector throughout the last 2 years has made this technology still vital to produce electrical power out of solar energy. Concentrator cells are a new means to bundle more solar light and increase the efficiency of photovoltaic technology. Silicium based photovoltaic cells could be made much cheaper, since they don’t need to be of the same quality than those used for computer chips.

. Analysts say that in the year 2020 solar cells worth 100 gigawatt of electrical power will be produced, requiring the usage of 800.000 tons of silicium.

. USA still is the largest producer of nuclear power world-wide, France another large one, while Japan of course – after the desaster in March last year – does everything to get rid off it. Similar in Germany. Just read in the news paper today that the nuclear power plant in Biblis will be dis-assembled starting 2016; this most likely will take 10 – 15 years !

. Germany plans to have 35 % of our electrical power produced based on renewable energy in 2020, 80 % in 2050 !

. It is expected that the demand of electrical power world-wide will increase by 70 % until year 2030. Installed electrical power will grow from 5000 gigawatt to 10.500 gigawatt which means: 8000 new power plants ( while 2000 reach their end of life ) world-wide. Every third of the new power plants will be built in India or China.

. Coal will play an important role even in the future, because it is cheap and still sufficiently available. It will make 30 % of world-wide electrical power generation. Problem of course: its carbon emissions. CCS ( Carbon Capture and Storage ) will become an important technology to deal with that, like cleaning emissions of power plants and storing carbon below ground.

I recall a statement made in "bild der wissenschaft" one or two years ago: an area of 500×500 kilometer in the Sahara would be sufficient to produce enough electrical power for the entire world – even for 9 billion people. But how to transport that electrical power from there to every place on our planet ? The production of power might not be our biggest challenge. Distribution, storage and smart usage are where a lot of innovation is needed for our future.

My favorites for week 13, 2011

Big GrinSomething to laugh: my favorite comic strip of the weekabout Baseball 2.0

Things 2.0 are sometimes very different to how they used to be in the good old times, don’t you think ? How do you like this  “Moderately Confused” comic strip ?

And since we have April Fool’s day, here is another one from Wizard Of Id:

NerdSomething to watch: my favorite video clip of the weekabout a lighthouse keeper

Since a new version of Blender has been announced it is may be a good time to look at one of those awesome animation videos created with this software. Watch “Lighthouse” and learn a great message from this film. See for yourself …
The Responsibility Project
Cool Something to discover: my favorite bookmark of the weekabout Parkopedia
Recommended by Lifehacker today: Parkopedia, a well designed site giving you a great overview and detailed and valuable information like prices and reviews for 15 million parking spaces in 20 countries. I was surprised to see that it covers Mainz, Germany, as well. Whenever you come to Mainz, this is my recommended parking space: Spacious and cheap, my recommended parking place when going downtown. Probably 10 minute walk to Dome and Old Town.

Surprise Something to surprise: my favorite "I really didn’t know this" of the weekabout bees

A Lot Of Bees
"A Lot Of Bees" by Will Merydith.

Did you know that

  • one third of our food needs the help of bees to grow,
  • there are 20.000 different species of bees on the world.
  • a swarm of bees consists of 50.000 bees in summer and 20.000 in winter; a bee swarm is an excellent example for swarm intelligence and an efficient social system; such a swarm can be seen as a new life form providing much more functions than a single bee could provde.
  • one bee can dust up to 3000 blooms per day
  • dusting 15 million blooms and 300.000 flight kilometer are needed for 1 kilo honey
  • a bee queen lives 5 years and lays up to 200.000 eggs in summer
  • RFID technology is used to track thousands of bees in a single swarm as part of the beegroup project run by the University of Würzburg, Germany

Source: bild der wissenschaft 4/2011

  Something to enjoy: my favorite photo  on flickr under a Common Creative licenseabout Queenstown

"pcp-39.jpg" by Paul Clark Images.

Queenstown in New Zealand, where I have been 2 years ago, is a remarkable ski area, as Paul Clark proofs with this dramatic shot.

Something to talk about: my favorite quote of the weekabout tools

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

"Hammer" by Markus Wichmann.

I think we have the opposite problem today: too many tools to choose from, thus it is difficult to find the hammer for a given nail and thus we often use a different tool to deal with it.

The year of the astronomy

2009 not only is the year of Charles Darwin ( read more about this also here in “The bamboo raft” ), it is also the Year of the Astronomy, as has been decided by the UN and the International Astronomic Union (IAU) on December 20th, 2007.

Exactly 400 years ago Johannes Kepler published what he had discovered about the physics of the sky, the laws of planetary motion: "The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the sun at a focus." And: "A line joining a planet and the sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time." (The third law has been added at a later time). Galileo Galilei, not the inventor of the telescope, was the first to use it – after making some improvements – to look at the sky. When he saw mountains, lowlands and the landscapes of the moon and when he observed the moons of Jupiter he discovered that planet earth is nothing special in the universe, just an orb like many others.

The knowledge those two gained was in total contradiction to what human mankind up to that time thought about the fundamentals of our world. Described more by philosophers like Aristotle and Ptolemy and strongly supported by religions and the Christian Church the picture of the world up to this time was a “geo-centric” one, describing planet Earth as the one and only centre of the universe. Some say that this gain of knowledge initiated by Kepler and Galileo has been the most dramatic one in the history of human mankind, it definitely was part of the Scientific Revolution, as well as Charles Darwin’s discoveries.

Geo-centric picture of the world according to Tycho Brahe.
Source: wikipedia.

You must imagine this time when only a few people knew what Kepler and Galileo knew at that moment. What they had discovered was not just a little improvement of our knowledge about the world, it was a revolutionary change in total conflict with traditional knowledge, an attack against religions and church.  People probably were not that open minded anyway these days but under these circumstances people like Kepler and Galileo had to make a tough decision whether they wanted to practice what we would call knowledge sharing nowadays. It probably was not really an option for them to hold back their knowledge, but with that they started a fight against those forces who claimed to know everything about our world at that time. Sharing knowledge in these times could easily have a major negative impact on those attempting this. Galileo actually found himself in front of the Inquisition where he had to argue about his findings and  finally confess that he was wrong. especially also in regards to his support of what Kepler had published.. At the end he has been found suspect of heresy and has been put under house arrest for the rest of his life. It took the church until 1992 to come up with an excuse how the Galileo affair had been handled and to admit that our planet is not stationary.

Knowledge sharing in these days is much easier, isn’t it ? At least for us as we live in an open and democratic world – which is still not the case everywhere on this planet. Nevertheless, who of us would ever be in the position to discover something as spectacular as Kepler and Galileo did ? Sharing knowledge about information technology or project management, discussing things like social software or SOA is by far less dramatic compared to those topics “discussed” 400 years ago. But still we have big discoveries to make: finding the theory of everything, explaining what happened during the first sub seconds after the big bang or even before it,  finding ways to produce the amount of energy we need without killing us and our planet, findings cures against our major diseases.

Source: bild der wissenschaft 2/2009 (article “Die Astro-Revoluzzer”) and wikipedia