Broadcast 2706 Hugh Blair-smith

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Guest:  Hugh Blair-Smith; Topics: Hugh's book, "Left Brains for The Right Stuff: Computers, Space, And History," early spaceflight computers, SpaceX, much more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website, Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See  

We welcomed Hugh Blair-Smith to the program to discuss his excellent new book, "Left Brains for The Right Stuff: Computers, Space, And History,"  Remember to buy it through The Space Show/OGLF Amazon portal or the Amazon Smile site so that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to The Space Show.  Instructions can be found on the main Amazon link on our home page.  Hugh's book "summarizes the history of three technologies - rockets, navigation, and computers- and recounts how they were woven into the rise and rivalry of superpowers in the twentieth century." Our guest started off by telling us about the early space days history of MIT and what was known as the Instrumentation Laboratory (The Lab) which later became the Draper Lab at MIT.  The Lab worked on an early Air Force project to send a spacecraft to Mars using miniaturized electronics and guidance systems. We also talked about inertial guidance, specifically for airplanes dating back to 1953, then going forward for spaceflight.

We started talking about the early Apollo program computers.  I asked about computers for Mercury and Gemini.  As you will hear, Mercury did not use a computer in the capsule but Gemini did regarding rendezvous.  Listener Marshall called in with technical questions regarding the Apollo computer.  He wanted to know how many instructions per second the computer could handle.  This started a very interesting discussion with our guest about spacecraft computers, larger mainframe computers such as the IBM 650, our modern cell phone computers, and the Apple IIe.  Don't miss this excellent and information discussion about early spaceflight computers.

I asked Hugh why he provided us with chapters on rocket history dating back to 1567.  Again, don't miss our discussion about rocket history.  I then asked him about turning points to the modern era of rocket history.  Our guest talked about two such points driven by Robert Goddard and  Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.  Again, an excellent discussion with our guest.

In the second segment, I asked Hugh if the technology leaps forward were bigger and coming faster in the early days of the space race and our space history than what we experience today in the space industry.  He said yes but listen to his explanation.  He also said that spaceflight today is not that much harder if at all than early spaceflight as we are still launching out of the gravity well, going to orbit, re-entering Earth's atmosphere, & keeping the crews alive.  One point our guest did make was the major leap forward today regarding the recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage.  That said, he also offered up that the Apollo computer could have handled the Falcon 9 first stage landing on the barge.  Don't miss his explanation regarding his statement

Our guest was asked in what areas the U.S. was behind the Soviet Union regarding space. As part of his answer, he talked about Apollo 11 landing on the Moon while the Soviet Union's Luna 15 crashed on the Moon at the same time.  He also talked about the Soviet attempt to build the giant rocket N1.  He then talked about many of the Soviet Union's first in space achievements so don't miss this discussion. 

John from Ft. Worth called to talk and SpaceX landing the first stage on the barge and the Apollo computer being able to do it.  They also discussed the capabilities of the space shuttle computer.  Our conversation then evolved to one about space policy and leadership today.  Hugh noted that most of the leadership issues are driven by politics but also by economics so both politics and economics are driving and impacting U.S. space leadership. 

Ben from Dallas wanted to know what Hugh thought of the new private sector of today engaging in commercial space.  Helen in Houston asked our guest to clarify what he meant by talking about a spiritual connection with the work being done in the early days of the space program.  To respond, Hugh referred us to Star Trek for examples.  Our guest had more to say about Apollo 12 landing on target and settling the Moon race once and for all.  Don't miss his comments. 

Near the end of the program, Hugh was asked if we were now or might find ourselves in a future space race with China.  This is another segment you do not want to miss.  In addition during the final minutes, he talked more about JFK and Nixon, then he focused in on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program.  He said that set the stage for future international cooperation in space projects. 

Integrated circuits were an interesting topic that came up as we were about to end the program.  Miniaturization for electronics and other components was also discussed, especially for satellites.  Our guest offered interesting closing comments.

Please post your comments/questions in the comments section for this archived program on TSS website.  You can reach our guest through me at




"Left Brains For The Right Stuff: Computers, Space, & History"

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22 May 2016 Hugh Blair-Smith
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