IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 40

BEYOND THE BOX
HOMER AHR IS
PHOTOGRAPHED
IN HORSESHOE
BAY, TEXAS.

Homer Ahr Reflects on Working
Mission Control for the NASA
Apollo Space Program
By Keelia Estrada Moeller

G

rowing up in the midst of
Sputnik and the Cuban
Missile Crisis, Homer Ahr's
interests in the space program
were piqued early.
Ahr became a computer operator for a construction company in
his early college years. Inspired to
further his career, he taught himself how to program in FORTRAN.
Ahr was later asked to work on a
program that analyzed the water
quality of the San Antonio River. He
had it working within a week. From
there, the vice president of research
gave Ahr a job as a programmer.
From his work on the first IBM
System 360 in San Antonio, Ahr
discovered that IBM was working
on the space program, and that
the company was interviewing at
St. Mary's University. In total, Ahr
had interviews with 10 companies,

half of which were related to the
aerospace or space industry. "I got
an offer from everybody," he says.
"But I wanted to go work for IBM. I
thought IBM was the best company
in the world. I wanted a challenge,
and I wanted to do something for
my country."
Initially, Ahr was hired in the
NASA Apollo space program as a
mathematician and programmer,
but it was multidisciplined because he had to be skilled in math,
physics, astronomy and aeronautics. "I manipulated equations and
wrote programs. I was assigned to
maneuver control, where we were
responsible for all of the powered flight programming for the
Mission Control Center," Ahr says.
"There were eight of us, and over
half a million lines of complex
math and code."

ɂ PHOTO BY JASON GRIEGO

Ahr was only 22 years old when
he was selected to manage the
Dynamics Console for the Apollo
11 mission. As one of the youngest
members of the prime team, NASA
and IBM management had discussions about his credentials and level
of experience. But despite this, Ahr
knew he was qualified and so did his
superiors. "The fact of the matter
was, I could run the console just as
well as anybody could," he says. "I
also had what you might call a fighter pilot mentality. The more pressure, the tougher the situation, the
more I could focus and perform."
Ahr supported all of the Apollo
11 major events, from launch, all
the way through splashdown. "On
July 20, 1969, I computed the final
descent at around 3 p.m. Central
Time. The targets were uplinked to
the onboard computer and given to
the astronauts to execute," he says.
"About 20 minutes later-the longest 20 minutes of my life-I heard
Neil Armstrong say, first-hand,
'Contact. Engine Off. Shutdown.
Houston, Tranquility Base here.
The Eagle has landed.' "
Nine months later, Ahr worked
on Apollo 13. He wrote the code
for the maneuver to get the Apollo
13 astronauts back a day earlier-and to get them back alive. "It
was a return to Earth maneuver
from the lunar sphere of influence
using the descent thruster," he
notes. "That was not a capability that we could compute before
Apollo 13, and my office mate and
I wrote the code." When the disaster happened, they were called in
to Mission Control to compute and
validate the maneuver.
You may not hear Ahr's name
often associated with the Apollo
missions, but he was there, in the
Mission Control Center, making
them possible. "The success of a
program depends on the people,
and there was nothing we wouldn't
do for one another in order to
achieve success," Ahr reflects.

40 | MARCH/APRIL 2020 IBMSYSTEMSMAG.COM

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IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020

Table of Contents
Editor's Desk: Securing a data-driven world
Currents: Learn how to provide customers with data privacy and security at Think 2020
Currents: On the web
Currents: Closing the COBOL programming skills gap
Currents: Hyundai and Uber announce aerial ride-hailing partnership
Partner POV: 3 requirements for enterprise-level digital transformation
Cover Story: Dynamic Data Protection: IBM Data Privacy Passports gives IBM Z users data privacy control, no matter where it is or where it's going
Feature 1: Sealing up Privacy: Continuous IBM Z innovations offer a roadmap designed to stay ahead of clients' changing security needs
Feature 2: Unlocking Quantum Security: Quantum-safe cryptography is key to protecting data as quantum computing systems evolve
TECH Showcase: Collaboration, communication and cooperation are crucial for developing a successful data management strategy
Techbits: z/OS data migration: Helping clients avoid risk and downtime
Techbits: Ask the expert: What is Fibre Channel over IP?
Beyond the Box: Homer Ahr reflects on working mission control for the NASA Apollo space program
Reference Point - Global Events, Education, Resources for Power Systems
2020 IBM Z Solutions Directory
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Intro
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Cover1
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IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 2
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 3
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Table of Contents
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 5
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Editor's Desk: Securing a data-driven world
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 7
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Currents: Learn how to provide customers with data privacy and security at Think 2020
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Currents: On the web
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Currents: Closing the COBOL programming skills gap
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Currents: Hyundai and Uber announce aerial ride-hailing partnership
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Partner POV: 3 requirements for enterprise-level digital transformation
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 13
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Cover Story: Dynamic Data Protection: IBM Data Privacy Passports gives IBM Z users data privacy control, no matter where it is or where it's going
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 15
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 16
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 17
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 18
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 19
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 20
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Feature 1: Sealing up Privacy: Continuous IBM Z innovations offer a roadmap designed to stay ahead of clients' changing security needs
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 22
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 23
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Feature 2: Unlocking Quantum Security: Quantum-safe cryptography is key to protecting data as quantum computing systems evolve
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 25
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 26
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 27
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 28
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 29
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 30
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - TECH Showcase: Collaboration, communication and cooperation are crucial for developing a successful data management strategy
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 32
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 33
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 34
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 35
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Techbits: z/OS data migration: Helping clients avoid risk and downtime
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 37
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Techbits: Ask the expert: What is Fibre Channel over IP?
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - 39
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Beyond the Box: Homer Ahr reflects on working mission control for the NASA Apollo space program
IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z - March/April 2020 - Cover3
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