Hackaday Links: August 20, 2017

Foam core, dollar tree foam board, Adams foam board, or whatever we’re calling a thin sheet of foam sandwiched between two pieces of poster board, is an invaluable hacker’s tool. Everyone should have a few sheets on hand, and not just because each sheet is a dollar each at any Dollar Store. [Eric] has been working on a technique to create compound curves in foam board, and the results look great. It’s a true three-dimensional plane with weird curves, and certainly has applications for something.

The Apollo Lunar Module is the first, and only manned space-only spacecraft ever made. The design of this spacecraft isn’t constrained by trivialities like ‘atmosphere’, and the design didn’t need ‘bulkheads thicker than a stack of paper towels’. It is a beautiful ship, and now a company wants to produce a gorgeous 1/32 scale model of the LEM. The goal is $25k, which is quite high for the real space modeling market, but if this GoFundMe campaign succeeds, this will be one of the finest real space models ever created. It’ll also match the scale of the 1/32 Revell CSM.

Speaking of Apollo-related technology, here’s a slight bit of drama. [Fran] has been working on recreating the DSKY — the user interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer — for a few years now. She’s set up a crowdfunding campaign to recreate the electroluminescent, screen printed segment display, and things are going great. Now there’s a company selling commercial DSKYs (with a stupid TFT display), that potentially uses the same art. Is this copyright infringement? Maybe, but probably not. It is a dick move not to credit [Fran], though.

The Monoprice Mini Delta is phenomenal. More on that in a bit.

There’s a complete solar eclipse happening across the United States tomorrow. Many schools should have started classes by then, but they’re calling tomorrow a snow day. Everyone who is traveling to see the eclipse is probably already where they’re going to be, and there are clouds on the horizon. Literal clouds. Everyone is watching the weather channel to see what the cloud cover will be tomorrow. Some people don’t have to worry: [Dan] is building a high-altitude balloon to get 100,000 feet above any clouds. There’s a 360° camera onboard, and the resulting video will be awesome. At least one person in Charleston will be renting a plane; I question the wisdom of renting a 172 over a Piper or Cirrus or another low-wing plane, but whatever. If you’re working on a project that will look at the eclipse from above the clouds, leave a note in the comments. For those of you looking at clouds tomorrow, Hackaday is doing another eclipse meet up on the Pacific coast of Mexico on April 8, 2024.

Hackaday Links: July 23, 2017

Hey, you know what’s happening right now? We’re wrapping up the third round of The Hackaday Prize. This challenge, Wheels, Wings, and Walkers, is dedicated to things that move. If it’s a robot, it qualifies, if it’s a plane, it qualifies, if it passes butter, it qualifies. There’s only a short time for you to get your entry in. Do it now. Superliminal advertising.

Speaking of the Hackaday Prize, this project would be a front-runner if only [Peter] would enter it in the competition. It’s one thing to have a cult; I have a cult and a petition to ‘stop’ me.

We were completely unaware of this project, but a few weeks ago, a cubesat was launched from Baikonur. This cubesat contains a gigantic mylar reflector, and once it’s deployed it will be the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this in the press, but if you have any pictures of sightings, drop those in the comments.

In a mere two years, we’ll be looking at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The mission control center at Johnson Space Center — where these landings were commanded and controlled — is still around, and it’s not in the best shape. There’s a Kickstarter to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center to its former glory. For the consoles, this means restoring them to Apollo 15 operational configuration.

We’ve seen 3D printed remote control airplanes, and at this point, there’s nothing really exceptional about printing a wing. This user on imgur is going a different direction with 3D printed fiberglass molds. Basically, it’s a fuselage for a Mustang that is printed, glued together, with the inside sanded and coated in wax. Two layers (3 oz and 6 oz) fiberglass is laid down with West Systems epoxy. After a few days, the mold is cracked open and a fuselage appears. This looks great, and further refinements of the process can include vapor smoothing of the inside of the mold, a few tabs to make sure the mold halves don’t break when the part is released, and larger parts in general.

The Darknet’s Casefile will take you to the limit of your existing knowledge. Join them, to go on a quest to improve your technical abilities.

This week is Def Con. That means two things. First, we’re on a hardware hunt. If you’ve been dedicating the last few months to #badgelife or other artisanal electronics, we want to hear about it. Second, [Joe Kim] made a graphic of the Tindie dog wearing a Hackaday hoodie and it’s adorable. There are a limited number of stickers of our hacker dog.

Gigabyte launched a single board computer with an Intel Apollo Lake CPU, discrete memory and storage, and a mini PCIe slot. Of course, this is being incorrectly marketed as a ‘Raspberry Pi competitor’, but whatever.

Re-Creating the Apollo DSKY’s Display

Apollo astronauts used the DSKY (Display-Keyboard) to interact with the flight computer with a series of 2-digit codes punched into a numeric keypad. Above the keyboard was a high voltage electroluminescent (EL) display whose segments were driven by electromechanical relays; old-ass technology not seen in operation in decades.

[Fran Blanche] is working to re-create the DSKY’s display, and is raising funds to make her first prototype. She was actually able to go dismantle a real DSKY at the Smithsonian, and this drove her desire to re-create the DSKY’s unusual display.

As [Fran] points out in her video, cinematic re-creations typically involve LED displays and CGI rather than the authentic EL 7-segs. Who would want that when you could have the original?

The DSKY is one of the most recognizable and historically relevant parts of the Apollo Command Module and it’s also quite rare. There are only a handful of  them around and of course none of them work. [Fran]’s display could help museums, collectors — and yes, moviemakers — re-create DSKYs with greater authenticity.

[Fran] is a good friend of Hackaday. If you missed her Hack Chat on antiquated technology last Friday you can check out the transcript here.

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Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, Richard Garwin Named for Medal of Freedom

Somewhat hidden among athletes, actors, and musicians, three giants of technology have been aptly named as 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, and Richard Garwin all made significant contributions to the technology that envelops our lives and embody the quest for knowledge and life-long self learning that we’d like to see in everyone.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s legacy lies with the origins of computer science. She wrote the first compiler. In a time when computers were seen more as calculating machines than easily adaptable frameworks she looked to the future and made it happen. She continued to make huge contributions with lasting effect in developing COBOL, unit testing methods for programmers, and in education. We have long loved her explanation of a nanosecond (and why software engineers shouldn’t waste cycles) and was one of the first to program on the Harvard Mark I which can still be seen in the lobby of the school’s engineering building.

margaret_hamilton_1995As Director of Apollo Flight Computer Programming, Margaret Hamilton is the driving force behind the software of Apollo. When the program started, she was Director of Software Engineering at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Originally there wasn’t a plan or budget for software in the space program. Hamilton built the program and led the team who wrote the software and turned it into punch cards to be fed into the computer. We enjoyed reading about some of her adventures during the Apollo project, her drive to develop pristine code is palpable. Over the past year we’ve marveled at the rope memory of the Apollo Guidance Computer and delighted when a hardcopy of AGC software showed up at a party. Her legacy at having written the code for the first portable computer — one that happened to land on the moon and return home safely — is incredible.

richardgarwin1980Physicist Richard Garwin’s name is most associated with the first hydrogen bomb design. But another part of his work is more likely to have directly touched your life: his research into spin-echo magnetic resonance helped lead to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRIs have of course become a fundamental tool in medicine. Garwin studied under Fermi during his doctoral work — you may remember Fermi from our look at the Fermiac analog computer last year.

Congratulations to these three recipients, their recognition is incredibly well deserved. We’d love to hear about some of your own technology heroes. Let us know on the tips line so that we may help celebrate their accomplishment and inspire the next generation of giants.

Image Credits:

Retrotechtacular: Power Driven Articulated Dummy

If any of you have ever made a piece of clothing, you’ll know some of the challenges involved. Ensuring a decent and comfortable fit for the wearer, because few real people conform exactly to commercial sizes. It’s as much a matter of style as it is of practicality, because while ill-fitting clothing might be a sartorial fail, it’s hardly serious.

When the piece of clothing is a space suit though, it is a different matter. You are not so much making a piece of clothing as a habitat, and one that will operate in an environment in which a quick change to slip into something more comfortable is not possible. If you get it wrong at best your astronaut will be uncomfortable and at worst their life could be threatened.

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Apollo: The Alignment Optical Telescope

The Apollo program is a constant reminder that we just don’t need so much to get the job done. Sure it’s easier with today’s tools, but hard work can do it too. [Bill Hammack] elaborates on one such piece of engineering: The Alignment Optical Telescope.

The telescope was used to find the position of the Lunar Module in space so that its guidance computer could do the calculations needed to bring the module home. It does this using techniques that we’ve been using for centuries on land and still use today in space; although now it’s done with computer vision. It was used to align the craft to the stars. NASA used stars as the fixed reference points for the coordinate system used to locate objects in space. But how was this accomplished with great precision?

The alignment optical telescope did this by measuring two unknowns needed by the guidance computer. The astronaut would find the first value by pointing the telescope in the general area necessary to establish a reading, then rotate the first reticle (a horizontal line) on the telescope until it touched the correct star. A ring assembly was then adjusted, moving an Archimedes spiral etched onto the viewfinder. When the spiral touches the star you can read the second value, established by how far the ring has been rotated.

If you’ve ever seen the Lunar Module in person, your first impression might be to giggle a bit at how crude it is. The truth is that much of that crudeness was hard fought to achieve. They needed the simplest, lightest, and most reliable assembly the world had ever constructed. As [Bill Hammack] states at the end of the video, breaking the complicated tool usually used into two simple dials is an amazing engineering achievement.

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Decoding Rediscovered Rope Memory From the Apollo Guidance Computer

On August 25th, 1966, an Apollo Command Module was launched aboard a Saturn IB rocket in mission AS-202. This mission was intended to immediately precede the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission, the AS-202 was unmanned, serving as a test of flight hardware, fuel cells, and the guidance and navigation control systems. This mission used the first Apollo Guidance Computer ever flown, and this mission was vital to testing the computer that would take men to the moon.

While the software from the later missions exists and is available on Github, the earlier Block I spacecraft, including the unmanned Apollo 4 and Apollo 6 missions, are poorly documented. [Francois Rautenbach] was lucky enough to get his hands on the rope memory modules from the AS-202 mission. Now he’s investigating these modules with oscilloscopes and x-rays to recreate some of the first software that was flown in space.

The procedure to extract the data from these rope memory modules is a bit harder than reading a bit of Flash off a chip. Rope memory is weird, but with a contraption made out of a lot of relays and an oscilloscope, [Francois] was able to capture data from these memory modules.

Of course, [Francois] first needed to figure out the pinout for the gigantic backplane connector on each of these memory modules. To do that, he checked out a Block II AGC, read the schematics very carefully, and reverse engineered a connector that isn’t made anymore. The next step was x-raying the rope memory modules to see how they were assembled. Even though these memory modules contain the only extant copy of the Block I AGC software, even reading one bit off of these modules is an amazing case of technological archeology.

The answer to the obvious question — where did these modules come from — is exactly what you would expect. These memory modules were picked up off a scrap heap forty years ago. The gentleman who found these modules was kind enough to give them to [Francois]. Check out the videos below for [Francois]’ video logs. If you’re into slightly more destructive testing of forgotten Apollo flight hardware, [Fran Blanche] tore down a few modules from the Apollo Launch Vehicle Digital Computer a few years ago.

Thanks to [Vincent], [Danie], and [Kent] for jumping on this one and sending it into the tip line.
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