IBM helps design and build the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator for Harvard University. It is used by US Navy scientists to prepare ballistic tables.


An IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator (CPC), the US space program’s first digital computer, is used to develop the US Army Redstone missile.


The Langley Research Center—then part of the US National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (a forerunner of NASA)—begins studies of multistage, solid fuel rockets. An IBM Card Programmed Electronic Calculator is used for engineering calculations.


IBM announces the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Calculator, which is used in the design of the Jupiter C rocket. One of the first IBM 701 computers arrives at Convair, developer of the Atlas missile used in the Mercury program.


IBM introduces the IBM 704 computer, which is applied in satellite tracking and missile design.


The US Army’s Computational Laboratory in the Guided Missile Division—destined to become part of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center—uses two IBM 650 computers to design the Jupiter C.


An IBM 704 computer calculates and predicts the orbit of the US Navy’s crewless Vanguard satellite. Priority development of the Jupiter missile is underway using an IBM 704 computer.


Two IBM 704 computers are used to track the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite.


An IBM 705 computer at IBM’s Vanguard Computing Center aids in the launch and tracking of Explorer I, the first non-Soviet Earth satellite. IBM also develops the ASC-15 guidance computer for the US Air Force Titan II missile computer.


An IBM 709 processing system is used in the first US flight of monkeys (Able and Baker) into outer space.


IBM computers provide data for launching and tracking Project Echo, an experiment in space communications. NASA acquires a new IBM 7090 data processing system to perform calculations for the Project Saturn super booster.


NASA launches two Project Mercury human suborbital flights. IBM computers make millions of calculations a minute to help flight controllers make vital decisions throughout the missions.


John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. His historic flight is monitored in real time by IBM computers. In this same year, IBM receives the contract for the Saturn launch vehicles’ guidance computer and begins work on the guidance computer that will help steer the Gemini capsule.


IBM employees and computers help NASA track the 22-orbit flight of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper in Faith 7.


A 99-pound IBM computer becomes the first onboard computer to guide a vehicle (Saturn SA-6) from launch into space. IBM’s Federal Systems Division is awarded a contract for part of the Saturn launch vehicles, the largest space contract in the company’s history to date.


An IBM guidance computer is used on the first spaceship rendezvous between Gemini 6 and Gemini 7. An IBM computer analyzes binary code representing the Martian surface sent back by Mariner IV. The IBM 2361 Core Storage Unit, the largest computer memory ever built by the company, is shipped to NASA to become part of the Real Time Computer Complex—developed by IBM for the Gemini program.


For the first time, a Gemini spacecraft is automatically guided through reentry by an onboard computer system—an IBM computer. The Apollo program launches three crewless Saturn 1 launch vehicles controlled and monitored by the IBM-fabricated instrument unit. NASA’s Real Time Computer Complex begins installing IBM System 360/Model 75 computers to meet the demands of the Apollo program.


IBM plays a key role in the successful Saturn V test flight.


The three-foot high, 21-foot diameter, IBM-assembled instrument unit guides the Apollo 8 in the first human circumlunar flight. Five IBM computers (System 360/Model 75 machines) in Houston, Texas, monitor almost every phase of the mission, including the heartbeats of the astronauts.


The Apollo 11 astronauts make the first human landing on the Moon with the help of IBM computers. An onboard computer in the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory II operates for a full year.


IBM computers in Houston, Texas, assist flight controllers in the dramatic rescue of the Apollo 13.


IBM computers help guide the Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 Moon landings. Photographs taken by Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit Mars, are enhanced by IBM computers.


Apollo 16 and Apollo 17, the final missions in the Moon-landing series, are supported by IBM personnel and products. IBM’s lunar orbital experiments team receives a NASA award for outstanding contributions to lunar science during the Apollo 15 mission. IBM units for the Skylab 1973 mission are accepted by NASA.


NASA awards IBM a contract to support the Apollo-Soyuz joint US-Soviet space venture scheduled for 1975, as well as contracts to provide computers, displays and programs for NASA’s Space Shuttle, scheduled for operation in the 1980s.


IBM signs a contract with NASA to develop a telemetry online processing system (TELOPS) that will accept satellite experiment data, process it and store up to one trillion bits of information.


A successful Apollo-Soyuz mission, supported by IBM equipment, concludes NASA’s Apollo series of space flights.


The Enterprise, the first vehicle in America’s Space Shuttle program, makes its debut at Palmdale, California, carrying flight computers and special hardware built by IBM’s Federal Systems Division.


The first Space Shuttle vehicle successfully completes the approach and landing test phase, demonstrating onboard computers and programming provided by IBM’s Federal Systems Division.


IBM computers and software play key roles in the successful first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle.


IBM equipment supports three successful flights of Space Shuttle Columbia.


The Space Shuttle Challenger makes its first flight. IBM computers help guide the orbiter throughout the mission. Challenger flies ten times through 1986.


The Space Shuttle Discovery makes its first flight, and IBM computers help guide the orbiter throughout the mission.


IBM computers help guide the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its first flight.


Upgraded IBM AP-101S flight computers make their maiden flight aboard Atlantis. By the middle of the year, AP-101S computers completely replace the Shuttle’s original flight computers, the AP-101Bs.


The Space Shuttle Endeavour makes its first flight using IBM computers to help guide the orbiter through its mission.


The IBM ThinkPad 750C becomes the first modern notebook computer to fly in space, as part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s mission to refurbish the Hubble Telescope. It is the first space flight of a 486-type processor.


The IBM ThinkPad 755C is selected to become the new standard Space Shuttle payload and general support computer (PGSC) for astronaut and experiment use.


An IBM ThinkPad 750C computer flies to the Russian space station Mir to support the NASA Shuttle/Mir program


NASA’s Pathfinder, equipped with IBM RS/6000® technology for its onboard computer, lands on Mars. The Space Shuttle carries 11 ThinkPad computers into Earth’s orbit. The IBM ThinkPad 760XD is selected as the new portable computer system (PCS) for the upcoming International Space Station after initial flights are flown using the ThinkPad 760ED.


IBM ThinkPad computers are deployed on John Glenn’s historic return to space. This is also the first flight of the ThinkPad 760XD. IBM ThinkPad 760ED computers are used to help command and control the International Space Station shortly after the first two station modules are in orbit.

IBM’s involvement with the US space program began before NASA even existed. In fact, IBM developed computers for NASA’s predecessor, the US National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. IBM was involved in the Apollo program from the beginning. And in the three decades following the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission, IBM continued to play an important role in humankind’s exploration of the high frontier—helping advance science, communications and business.

2 Men at the Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator
IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator

Announced in May 1949 as a versatile general-purpose computer, the IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator (CPC) was the first digital computer used in the US space program. It performed predetermined sequences of arithmetical operations coded on 80-column punched cards, adding figures at a rate of 2174 per minute. The CPC was instrumental in developing the US Army Redstone missile, which carried the first US satellite into orbit. A Redstone rocket also launched the first US astronauts and their Mercury capsule into sub-orbital flight in 1961.

Astronauts in the Apollo Skylab

Skylab was the fourth human space program supported by IBM. A science and engineering laboratory, Skylab received three crews of three men with missions lasting 28, 59 and 84 days, respectively. They performed ultraviolet astronomy experiments and detailed X-ray studies of the sun. IBM provided the instrument unit guidance system and onboard computers, as well as tracking and controlling computers on the ground at the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Johnson Space Center. Skylab’s launch was the last launch of the Saturn V—the rocket that carried men to the Moon.

The Space Shuttle Discovery with bay doors open and the word below it.
IBM and the Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle Columbia’s launch on April 12, 1981, with five IBM computers, marked humanity’s first reusable spacecraft and the beginning the US Space Shuttle Program. The program continued beyond Columbia with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. These shuttles repeatedly carried astronauts into orbit to launch and repair satellites, conduct research, and build the International Space Station. IBM provided programming and data processing equipment for onboard and ground-based monitoring and control, as well as launch support.

Astronaut on a space walk outside the shuttle Endeavor.
IBM ThinkPad notebook computers in space

IBM ThinkPad notebook computers first flew aboard a US Space Shuttle on December 2, 1993, on the Shuttle Endeavour’s flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts used the ThinkPad 750 machines to view color images and sketches of the telescope that were loaded on the computer’s hard drive. In all, IBM ThinkPad notebook computers have been on at least 31 Shuttle flights in the 20th century and on a number of Russian Proton, or Soyuz/Progress, launches.

Illustration of a habitation on Mars
Missions of the future

Who knows where the next space program will take us? Some scientists speculate that a permanent residence on the Moon would be the next logical step. Others predict a human mission to Mars will be feasible by the mid-21st century. Whatever the task at hand, technology companies like IBM and others will be there to lend their technological know-how and scientific expertise to help explore the boundaries of what’s possible.

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