In-depth Look At An LVCD Board From A Saturn V Rocket


Join [Fran] as she dons the hat of an electronics archaeologist when looking at this vintage circuit board from the space race. As part of her personal collection she somehow acquired a Launch Vehicle Digital Computer board for a Saturn V rocket. This particular unit was never used. But it would have been had the Apollo program continued.

[Fran] is enamored with this particular board because she believes it is the forerunner of modern digital circuit design and layout. Since routing circuit boards is part of what she does for a living you can see why this is important to her. Also, who isn’t excited by actual hardware from the space program? We’ve embedded two of her videos after the break. In the first she shows off the component to the camera and speaks briefly about it. But the second video has her heading to the dentist’s office for X-rays. The image above is a rotating X-ray machine, but it looks like the best imagery comes when a handheld gun is used. They get some great images of the traces, as well as the TTL components on the board itself.

A look at the board itself

Analysis of the LVDC using an X-ray machine

62 thoughts on “In-depth Look At An LVCD Board From A Saturn V Rocket

  1. Most people even those who grew up around this stuff or had family in the space program never knew that actual integrated circuits are as of this year 57 years old. Yes indeed the first ICs were made in 1955. Fran’s board is only a small token of how advanced electronics was well before most here were born.
    At one time I owned a book that detailed the history of microelectronics going back to before world war 2, sadly I loaned it to someone and never was able to get it back. One of the first companies involved in the production of those prehistoric ICs was a company bought by Fairchild camera & optical called Autonetics. Maybe this will help Fran in her search, even still that NASA stuff was patterned after stuff built for the Minuteman missile project and other cold war projects, which at the time were classified.

    Just think of how held back the greater society was from this technology, now think of the present day and how held back we must be. In the sixties the consumer electronics stuff of the day was ten to fifteen years behind what was really being produced for use in some war.


  2. Most hams like most everyone else on the planet at the time had no clue how far the state of the art of electronics had advanced by the time 1968 had rolled around. There are a few here who might know, from having worked where the various black boxes were made that went into the Apollo project. Some of that cool stuff they couldn’t talk about because it was classified and was being used in the arms race with the USSR. In the early 1970s I found out just how far we had progressed when a book I had been given opened my eyes really wide. Knowing that ICs are, as of this year nearly 58 years old and miniaturization of solid state devices is as old as the transistor itself and beyond.
    When I saw this clip it brought back memories of stuff that was in that book published by one of the founding companies in microelectronics, a company most have never heard of called Autonetics I was pleased to see some of these relics still among us.
    Usually this stuff finds its way into a landfill somewhere, I am glad to see that more than photographs remain.
    Autonetics was bought by Fairchild Camera & Optical sometime in the early sixties as I understand it. They may have even been America’s first IC manufacturer. Autonetics and Fairchild did a gob and a bunch of advanced electronics for the minuteman missle project. One item of interest was an upgraded guidance computer that brought the washing machine size computer down to the size of a microwave oven. It also was flat pack ICs with a multilayer boards and triple redundant circuity. They claim the computer was nearly 98% reliable. I’ll repost a link to this article over where my ham buddies hang out, there might be someone there who knows more about this particular board.


  3. I love looking at old technology. Bonus if it has great history behind it or involves space flight!

    Poll: How do you pronounce via? vahy-uh or vee-uh

    I design PCBs for a living and all my colleagues pronounce it “vee-uh”, however I often hear “vahy-uh” here on HaD and with hobbyist friends of mine who picked up PCB design on their own.

    Just curious.

    1. Agreed. This is seriously cool.

      Layout isn’t my full time gig but it is part of my job. . . not hobby stuff either, I am proud to say, but designs with embedded passives, 20+ layers and so dense only 2 assembly houses in the Bay Area will bid our jobs.

      Anyway, all of my co-workers say “vee-uh” but I say “vahy-uh” because I’m a jerk.

      – Robot

  4. This is the first time I have ever heard it pronounced any way other than “vee-uh.” If I heard anyone say “vye-uh”, I would assume they were a pointy-haired management type..

  5. I’ve got a book titled “The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation” by Frank O’Brien. Amazing how they managed to pack so much capability into such a primitive device.

  6. Let me add that her website is a information goldmine and besides being a brilliant hacker she’s a really good guitarist too.
    Dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, please give humankind some more women like this one. Thanks!

  7. Vee-uh and sodder. I’ve tried to put an L in there but it just sounds stupid. Now when my Russian classmates say solder with the L, it sounds fine.

    Maybe I just need to cultivate a Russian accent. :p

  8. Thank you for this post. This is *really* cool.

    I have a board from a Cray-1. All surface mount. Not sure if it’s TTL or ECL (never looked it up). A thing of beauty. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History was selling off the boards to raise money.

  9. I worked on some of the experimental stuff that most people never heard of back in the early 70’s. Our PCM equipment dated back to the Gemini program. It consisted of multiple racks of interconnected wire-wrapped backplanes, each holding hundreds of modules built on RTL technology and had separate modules for each logic function:, flip flops, nands, nors, etc. It was programmed with paper tape, had a massive 2k of magnetic core memory and Nixie tube displays. Troubleshooting the thing was a total nightmare. Hours and hours of tracing signals with a trusty Tektronics o-scope and a wirewrap gun. The modules were tested with a comparator panel on the front of the machine – load the diagnostic program into the core memory (not enough room in there for both the diagnostic and the operational program), plug a known good module in one socket, plug the module under test into another socket, press the button and green means go. Reload the operational program, replace module, still doesn’t work, swear and repeat.

  10. Oh yeah, that board is none other than the Chimpanzee Discrete Message Data Link Unit. When the early Apollo launches were crewed by chimpanzees the unit was developed to allow the monkeys to communicate with Houston. The chimp could select from a menu-driven display from any number of discrete messages such as “Monkey Afraid”, “Monkey Hungry”, “Monkey Pull ABORT Lever…..Sorry”. The project was scrapped when I came up with a more elegant solution which was to ignore what the chimps had to say and simply wire them with biometrics.

  11. You nerds need to quit wankin for a min and go over to
    Scope out all that range of talent
    go petition Wikipedia to edit the letters “Wo” into Renaissance ( )man.

    Seriously folks, go take a look at living example of
    the kind of spirit, broad range of skills
    and attitude to expand them as needed.
    Can we “celebrate” people like this instead of the latest drunken driving episode
    of some over ego-ed Hollywood character.

    And for some reason I say it two ways,
    Vi-uh duct (if it carries water)
    Or Vee-uh if it’s coming via the UPS truck.

    Thank You, Hackaday
    for Giving/Getting this type of person
    some more exposure. :)

    1. Using the masculine when no sex is defined is a common convention in language. Pointing out any disparity where none is intended might be construed as being somewhat sexist though.

      Also Fran to be frank, may just be more than meets the eye! To get that pun you might have to watch 5:26 to 5:30 of this video:

      In light of that I can only ponder how much more exposure would you like?

      Now if you’ll excuse me I must go have a laugh at your expense. heh Talk about a wanker! Perhaps you should have spent more than a minute scoping out that website?

  12. The word for going up is ascend not descend.

    Also comparing NASA technology to an arduino is not a realistic comparison. And I’m sure the PCB of a modern rocket doesn’t look like an arduino. But OK, i guess we have to focus on multi layer and vias. But maybe modern rockets have new tricks and designs with their PCB’s.

  13. I noticed the glasses also… but I was far more impressed with the woman behind them. Does anyone else find it odd (1st video) that we made serious progress in three years, but after that? Pfft. Nothing. zip. nada. No changes in approach in 45 years?!?

    BTW, Fran is awesome.

      1. It seems that these days, all the technical talent is going into designing cellphones. Can you believe that the state of the (American) art in the space program is the shuttle-which started development about 1980? I know other designs are on the books, but will they ever come to fruition? If it weren’t for private enterprise becoming interested, there would be no space program in the U.S.

        1. Space? The USA has been there, and done that already. Nothing to see, move along. Actually the US space program is still very active, we just don’t need to send humans into space anymore in order to get things done. Machines do a better job.

        2. Shuttle program started in 1980ish? My friend’s dad was working on it in1973. We couldn’t believe what he was supposedly doing. A rocket plane thing. By the mid ’70s we knew what it was, but back then it just seemed crazy.

  14. Huge progress was made in 45 years. The tens of thousands of small and medium scale integrated circuits and the cubic yards and tons of wires, connectors, support, power, and cooling all got sucked into a thumb nail sized chip or two or three.

  15. Consumer electronics have lagged behind the government’s innovations for years. A friend of mine who worked military intelligence during the Vietnam years, had a job of destroying prototype electronics. He has only said that what he has seen come to the consumer market and declared as “a new innovation” was already in use 10 – 20 years earlier in the military. ( Electronics that come out in the 80’s and 90’s )

    1. Well it’s not the ‘army’ that made this stuff, as she said the lunar lander system was done by MIT and the module she showed by IBM.

      And besides, NASA isn’t army.

      But yes NASA always did have advance access to stuff that only later got adopted let alone made commercial. And the spacerace was a prestige thing so lots of effort was made and lots of money dedicated.

      1. Your perception really doesn’t match up with reality as most of the rockets NASA uses are left overs from either the Army, or the Air Force. Redstone, Atlas, Titan, and Delta are all ICBMs. They are, or were the missiles NASA use the most too. Many of NASA’s missions are classified for the military. Don’t think that schools don’t do military research either. Because they do. This thing you’re on now, the Internet, it started as a military research project at MIT. Back then they called it DARPANET. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency NETwork.

  16. What an amazing board, and an amazing woman. This is, i guess, the best vintage circuitpr0n video i had ever seen. And being presented by such interesting woman, man, it was a nerdgasm.

  17. Interesting seems to support a rumor that the govt. has lost the plans of the saturn V and even if we wanted to build a new rocket (saturn V) we couldn’t cause oops we lost the plans!

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.