I have never been a computer lover. I have lived and worked with computers all of my life. “Love” never came into the equation. They were never a hobby or a passion, they represented work to me. Still do.
So it’s strange to feel wistful when a computer I worked with goes away. I am not used to having emotional ties with a machine. But I can’t help having a moment of silence for this particular one. Of course it’s not just any old computer. The Mission Operations Computer helped controllers fly the Space Shuttle for years and helped fly Apollo and other manned space missions before that. It’s not just a computer, but a piece of history.
It was a job for me. A cool job. A life’s work, if a mere 36-year-old can use those words and not sound too presumptuous.
When Heidi was in PR for a non-profit, I found myself attending these swanky society fundraisers, with doctors, corporate raiders, and captains of industry. Men and women with deep pockets and prominent job titles. And we’d invariably find ourselves standing in a circle holding flutes of champagne taking turns answering the requisite, “And so what do you do?” question. I may not have been a rich dude, but I got to say, “You know those green consoles that the flight controllers sit at when a Shuttle is in orbit? I write Trajectory software that powers those consoles and supports the Shuttle missions.” And everyone would be suitably impressed. Yep, the MOC made for an impressive-sounding job. And for people who are not from Houston, my job sounded even more impressive.
But I know it’s not all that impressive. The MOC was to computers today what my grandad’s old station wagon was to cars of today. Enormous, clunky, and dead-on dependable. A workhorse. A dinosaur. A miracle of 1960’s technology.
The article above references what I’ve been doing for the past five years — putting the MOC out to pasture. Last week they turned off the MOC for good, right after laying off the people who took care of it. I feel kind of bad about that, but what can you do — march of progress and all?
I’m gratified to read about our Trajectory Server, which is replacing the last key part of the MOC, as being “very robust” and an “unqualified success.” Indeed, how many multi-year software projects involving hundreds of thousands of lines of code come in under budget, on time, and with a quality product? So, yeah I’m proud. I hope the Trajectory Server grows up to be Mission Control’s next beloved, reliable dinosaur. And when they decided to scrap it years from now, I hope I find out somehow, so I can be appropriately wistful once again.