How the huge displays at NASA's mission control worked

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This is awesome tech for tis time. I’d never thought about it before. Having slides created in real time is just amazing.


By having some of the projects contain plotters



I saw the Talaria projector on the diagrams, and I was waiting for her to get around to it. Here’s a bit more about it…

I wondered at the time how much you could actually see on the big display. It looked great, but was it helpful?


ISTR that the the monitors at the various workstations in mission control were actually TVs playing images created by combining physical slides and live data.
More on Mission Control from the Apollo era.


How the heck did they do that? They didn’t have wall-sized LCDs back then.

Projectors, stupid. They had cinema projectors long before then…

[Long explanation making clear these were not the technological predecessors to our LCD-powered conference room projectors (more like classroom overhead projectors), reminding the reader that cinema projectors project film reels, not dynamic content…]

Ooops. Well, you know what they say about people who call others stupid…


Lots and lots of cell phones collected from time travelers?


It just seems way too complicated to work effectively. In fact, part of me wonders what percent of the NASA budget went toward creating those cool video screens, and how often they screwed up. Something with that many moving parts must constantly be breaking.

Seems to me they could have used a few overlapping overhead projectors rigged with magic markers controlled with the guts from an Etch-a-Sketch.

Edit: Or the Soviet version - man at chalkboard updating in real time.

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The Soviet version looks much like the American version.


They pretty much did; just with the engineering modifications required to scale up to the size required. An etch-a-sketch is pretty much a plotter with a scribe in a box that provides a refreshable drawing surface; and they had to go metal film and proper high intensity lighting filters rather than plotter pens because of the heat output.

Four of those five projectors were plotters which were equipped with these special diamond tipped scribes, and they were driven from servos to move a scribe across a slide which was coated completely opaque with a metal film. And as the scribe went across the plate, it would scrape away a tiny little ribbon of metal film and light would be able to project through.

As for percentage of budget, there’s nothing like running a manned space program set to “show the commies what’s what” funding levels to drive a sophisticated piece of theater tech into the budget noise; as well as provide a fair supply of people who think that “way too complicated to work effectively” is just part of the job.


This may seem like exotic technology, but it’s rather typical for 1960s ground-based aerospace hardware. The flight hardware of the time was much more exotic. After all, ICs were developed for exactly these missions.


The more things change, the more they stay the same. Fighting heat buildup continues to be the biggest challenge and goal of chip design.

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Wow, cool. Back around 1990, my department at AT&T Bell Labs got to have the bottom right corner display on AT&T’s big control room board in Bedminster. The board had five rows and 10 or 12 columns of big displays, maybe 6’x4’. I don’t remember what rear-projection technology they were using, some kind of big CRT projectors I think (such things were around, and becoming common in conference rooms), and the big room was fairly dark so they didn’t have quite the technical challenges that NASA had in the 60s. Many of the screens were run by Sun workstations, two were television, and some, like mine, were 640x480 PC displays. Our system mainly looked at the US wide-area fiber network, indicated cable cuts, and showed models of how we’d reroute traffic around them to deliver as much as possible.

One of the TVs was usually set to CNN; the local cable TV company didn’t carry The Weather Channel back then, which we would have really liked, so the other TV was usually also CNN or a network TV station that had news coverage of any events that might affect network demand.


This is why I love having YouTube on my TV, I get to watch quality content from people with a real passion for subjects that are just really interesting.


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