Slide Rules Were the Space Apps of the 1960s

Rocket scientist and Apollo flight controller Poppy Northcutt shared some photos of the slides rules aerospace corporation TRW Systems Group, an Apollo contractor that designed and built the LM descent engine, gave away as promotional materials for the early Apollo missions.


These amazing pieces of 1960s engineering could compute and display several flight parameters and mission events based on the nominal flight plan. That’s why, as Northcutt noted, the Apollo 13 slide rule rapidly became inaccurate.

Half a century later, in these days of ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, aerospace companies or space agencies develop and publish free mobile apps for space missions and science. They do similar computations and add features typical of contemporary digital technologies such as visualizations, interactive elements, and multimedia.

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