Originally published as " Space Guidance Evolution A Personal Narrative" by the present author in the Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics for March-April, 1982. It was invited as a History of Key Technologies paper as part of the AIAA's Fiftieth Anniversary celebration.
The prospect of preparing a comprehensive history of space guidance and navigation was, initially, a delight to contemplate. But, as the unproductive weeks went by, the original euphoria was gradually replaced by a sense of pragmatism. I reasoned that the historical papers which had the greatest appeal were written by "old timers" telling of their personal experiences. Since I had lived through the entire space age, and had the good fortune of being involved in many of the nation's important aerospace programs, I decided to narrow the scope to encompass only that of which I had personal knowledge. (It is, however, a sobering thought that you might qualify as an "old timer.")
The story begins in the early 1950's when the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (later to become The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.) was chosen by the Air Force Western Development Division to provide a self-contained guidance system backup to Convair in San Diego for the new Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile. The work was contracted through the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, and the technical monitor for the MIT task was a young engineer named Jim Fletcher who later served as the NASA Administrator.
The Atlas guidance system was to be a combination of an onboard autonomous...