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How Ford helped put man on the moon

Ford had a hand in the Apollo 11 mission equipment which enabled the mission, including the voice transmission back to Houston.

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“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” As Neil Armstrong’s words reverberated throughout the NASA Mission Control Center in Houston, and cheers and celebrations erupted both at Mission Control and around the world. The Apollo 11 lunar module had just landed on the moon.

Fifty years after that fateful moment, there isn’t much about the moon landing that has escaped our collective knowledge. But one thing that might surprise people is that Ford Motor Company had a huge hand in the Apollo 11 mission. All of the equipment that enabled the mission — including the voice transmission back to Houston and out to the rest of the world — was possible because of Ford’s role in building and maintaining the Mission Control Center.

How did the company that put the world on wheels come to be a part of putting a man on the moon?

From Carbon Arc Lamps to the Space Race

The story begins with Philco, founded in 1892 to produce carbon arc lamps before shifting into battery, radio and television production. In 1953, Philco engineers invented the surface barrier transistor, the first high-frequency transistor that enabled the development of high-speed computers. Philco’s effort to miniaturize and perfect the transistor led to work with the U.S. Military and NASA, but by 1960 financial difficulties forced the company to seek an outside buyer.

Looking to expand its product offerings beyond the automobile industry, Ford was intrigued by the access to new and innovative technologies engineered by Philco. It purchased the company in 1961 and Ford transferred its Aeronutronic Division to a new entity it called Philco-Ford.

In 1963, the company went head-to-head against tech giants like IBM, RCA, Lockheed, Hughes Aircraft and AT&T in a bid to implement the Mission Control Center at the new Manned Space Center in Houston. Although Philco-Ford was considered an underdog in the process, it was ultimately awarded the role as prime contractor.

“Had it not been for the merger with Ford, the company most likely would not have been considered for the job because of the magnitude of the engineering resources required,” Walter LaBerge, manager of Philco-Ford Houston Operations, noted in an oral history recounting the project.

Building What Had Never Been Built Before

The job responsibilities for Philco-Ford were immense, encompassing the design of hardware and software systems to solve problems that had never been experienced before, plus manufacturing, installation, start-up and testing of the control center, including data and control links to NASA’s remote tracking sites.

“In short, what NASA needed on the ground to assure a landing on the moon in the 60s was a major computer-assisted decision-making capability which no one had when Philco-Ford received the contract,” reads a company document from the time.

The Mission Control Center was completed in about two years — just in time to monitor the Gemini 3 mission in March of 1965 — and was fully functional a few months later when all mission control operations were moved from Cape Kennedy to Houston’s Manned Space Center.

In addition to designing and building out the control center, Philco-Ford provided technical and engineering support personnel during construction and ongoing operations. The system designs were updated for each mission, some of which required as many as 2 million wiring changes. Other statistics from Mission Control are just as staggering now as when they were installed more than 50 years ago:

  • More than 1,500 different items of telemetry data — from an astronaut’s health to the results of tests and flight data — flowed into the center simultaneously.
  • The Mission Control Center housed the largest assembly of television switching equipment in the world.
  • More than 60,000 miles of wiring were laid and maintained to continue operations.
  • Five IBM 360/75 mainframe computers sent data to more than 1,300 indicator switches to be monitored by mission flight controllers.

The Journey to the Moon

While Philco-Ford was involved with all of the Apollo missions, two stand out for their complexity.

The Apollo 8 mission featured the first spacecraft to orbit the moon and return to earth. This mission presented serious challenges to the personnel and equipment at the Mission Control Center because signals and data would be lost as the craft went behind the moon during the lunar orbit. There were some concerns about how the signal would be reacquired, but the equipment worked flawlessly and even allowed the astronauts to make several broadcasts from space — including a message of peace on Christmas Eve 1968.

In July 1969, Apollo 11 was the focus of the world. The work by Philco-Ford and the Mission Control staff was even more complex due to the unprecedented nature of the mission. As the world held its breath on July 20, the descent to the moon’s surface was broadcast around the globe.

The astronauts conducted a series of experiments and gathered lunar surface materials. They deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP), which would remain on the moon and monitor environmental conditions. The EASEP was a joint effort of NASA, Philco-Ford and IBM, so even after the successful return of the astronauts on July 24, 1969, the experimental package would remain and broadcast data for another year.

Life After the ‘Giant Leap’

Philco-Ford’s role with Mission Control continued as the Apollo missions gave way to Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and eventually the Space Shuttle. Renamed Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation in 1976, the company also began to provide additional services in satellite communication, including high-speed information systems with communication and environmental satellites. At one point in the early 1980s, Ford Aerospace had built more than half the communications satellites in orbit.

In 1990, Ford Motor Company exited the aerospace industry when Ford Aerospace was sold to Loral Corporation, but the same spirit of curiosity and innovation that powered its aerospace endeavors is still alive and well today. With major investments and advancements in self-driving technology, connected and electrified vehicles, as well as a major initiative to connect our transportation systems to a more efficient network, Ford is actively working to harness the power of technology to help cities overcome their own unique challenges. We’ve put our heads down to create groundbreaking technology before, and that gives us the confidence to know we can do it again to make life better for all, right here on earth.

Meanwhile, the Mission Control Center became a symbol of the space race recognized around the world, with historian Layne Karafantis describing it as “the most famous iteration of a particularly mid-century technology: the global Control Center.”

“The MCC in Houston, filled with consoles and computers and displays of real-time data, became iconic,” she continued. “MCC was a dynamic space whose design was created and implemented with almost every possible contingency considered. The Philco-Ford team’s integration of display, communication, and data-processing technologies within the Center made a manned mission to the Moon possible.”

Just like the rest of the world, Henry Ford II watched star-struck when that mission proved successful, inspired by its magnitude — and by what it could also mean for our terrestrial future.

“Only a few generations ago, most men lived and died within a few hundred miles of their birthplaces,” he said in a statement. “Now our horizons are virtually limitless. If man can walk on the moon, he can look to the planets and beyond the solar system as Columbus must have looked across a forbidding ocean… If we show the same determination and willingness to commit our resources, we can master the problems of our cities just as we have mastered the challenge of space.”

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ASUS puts more screen into gaming

While others battle over the thinnest bezel for maximizing screen space, ASUS released a dual screen laptop that uses the space where one’s palms would usually rest, writes BRYAN TURNER

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When one imagines dual screen, it’s usually two screens side-by-side on a desk, providing a horizontally long desktop experience. There have been clunky dual screen laptops in the past, some that folded out horizontally, but these never really caught the attention of the consumer.  

Enter Asus with the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15. Like the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, the ROG Zephyrus Duo features two screens – the main screen on the top panel (as we’re all used to) and another screen just below that, where the top of the keyboard would usually be. The main difference is the secondary screen pops out at a 13-degree angle to bridge the gap between the two screens, and to give better viewing angles.  

That ZenBook Pro Duo is also a pretty good machine for gaming, because it features Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics, but it doesn’t have the latest graphics. With the new machine, Asus is one of the first manufacturers to release a laptop featuring Nvidia’s latest RTX 2080 Super Max Q GPU for mobile devices. This is a momentous feat, considering that not only are the external features  cutting edge, but also the internals. 

The main panel is configured to be either 4K 60Hz or 1080p 300Hz. The former is most likely going to be picked up by video editors and photoshop gurus, because it covers 100% of the Adobe RBG colour space, and the latter will appeal to gamers who want to see their high frame rates in action. Both panels are Pantone Colour Calibrated for high colour accuracy. 

The secondary panel features a 32:9 resolution, which is equal to putting two standard 16:9 widescreen panels together. The touchscreen panel outputs a 3840 x 1100 resolution at 60Hz.  

The combination of these panels will be ideal for portable gamers. The main game can be on the main panel, while Discord and game streaming software can be on the secondary panel, all at a glance. Not to mention the game developers that have support for two screens, where the second screen highlights stats and other components that had to be crammed into the main screen’s space.   

On the inside, the laptop features liquid metal cooling, which lowers the temperatures by 8°C and allows the computer to function with less fan noise. Asus has also slipped some very interesting cooling tech behind the secondary panel, when it pops open, to maximise airflow into the computer from both the bottom and the top of the device. 

The laptop features the biggest battery Asus has yet put in a computer, at 90Wh. This is incredibly close to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA’s) limit of 100Wh batteries being allowed on flights to the US. Fortunately, this computer can be taken around the world if necessary. 

These computers will come in two variants of 10th Generation Intel processors, namely the i9-10980HK or i7-10875H. They support up to 2 M.2 NVMe PCIE 3 slots for SSDs. 

The new ROG gaming range from Asus will be available later this year. The price of the computer has not yet been confirmed

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Vodacom, Discovery launch free virtual COVID-19 tests

Vodacom and Discovery have teamed up to launch free virtual COVID-19 testing for all South Africans – not only for their customers.

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Vodacom and Discovery have partnered to deliver a powerful online healthcare platform for the benefit of all South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This platform provides easy access to a COVID-19 risk tool for all South Africans, to help understand your personal risk for COVID-19. Where needed, it assists immediately to schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and get advice.

Globally, telemedicine has proved to be vital in the management of this disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak. The risk assessment and virtual healthcare tools can help to identify people who need health professional engagement and a potential referral for testing or to a hospital.

The online healthcare platform therefore makes it possible for South Africans to access a healthcare professional without them having to travel to a healthcare facility.

This reduces overcrowding at clinics and doctors’ rooms where there is greater risk of the virus spreading. It also protects healthcare professionals from potential repeated exposure to COVID-19.

It is free to use and available on any web browser or mobile phone to facilitate a full consultation with a doctor, either through video calls, voice calls, or by text. The service can be accessed by visiting either the Discovery or Vodacom websites. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.

Through a partnership with Vodacom, Discovery’s existing DrConnect platform, which was previously available only to Discovery clients, is now accessible to all South Africans. Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100,000 consultations, making them free to any South African.

There are seven easy steps to use an online doctor consultation:

  1. Start the process by visiting Discovery’s COVID-19 information hub or Vodacom’s website. Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme can access the service through the Discovery app. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.
  2. Utilise the COVID-19 self-screening risk assessment tool, by answering a few easy questions.
  3. If you are confirmed as high risk of having COVID-19, a short registration and consent process on the DrConnect app will follow.
  4. Book a virtual consultation with a doctor who is available to assess the need for COVID-19 testing.
  5. If the doctor recommends testing, a photo of the completed pathology form will be sent to you by SMS, WhatsApp or email. The same process will apply to scripts for medicine.
  6. Testing and collecting of medicine will be facilitated by the relevant essential healthcare service providers that you must visit.
  7. Doctors will receive test results electronically and can then advise if you should schedule follow-up appointments to discuss results and next steps.

The Vodacom COVID-19 information hub contains other up-to-date information for consumers about COVID-19.

With virtual consultations, the location of the doctor or the location of the patient will not restrict access to fast and effective healthcare. All doctors can register to help.

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