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A piece of Apollo 11 history lives on at Montana computer museum

Posted: 7:55 AM, Jul 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-22 09:59:40-04

BOZEMAN – Fifty years ago, on July 21, Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

The actual moon landing was late in the day on the 20 but the astronauts waited seven hours to leave their craft, and that pushed the actual first moonwalk into the next day.

Aside from the two astronauts in the moon lander, the closest anyone got to the Apollo 11 flight was a TV set. But now, you can get a lot closer, right in Bozeman.

“Things that were actually on the moon, or orbited the moon, which is pretty singular,” said Eleanor Barker, American Computer and Robotics Museum executive director.

The actual computer that guided Apollo to the moon is on display at the American Computer and Robotics Museum, just off Kagy near the MSU campus.

“That’s a remarkable anniversary and that was the impetus for miniaturization of electronic components,” said Barbara Keremedjiev, the museum’s co-founder.

The 70-pound computer from the Apollo 11 command module may not seem so miniature, but it was a start, especially compared to the huge computer that ran the show back on earth.

Apollo Guidance Computer
The actual computer that guided Apollo to the moon is on display at the American Computer and Robotics Museum. (MTN News photo)

“Thirty-two kilobytes of memory of RAM. Your watch probably has ten times more than that,” Keremedjiev said.

While true, computer scientists point out that a team of 350 programmers from MIT designed powerful software developed to make the most of these primitive computers in a way your watch or even top-of-the-line smartphone could never match.

“And it weighed a thousand pounds. I don’t know how you got guys to the moon with these things,” Barker joked.

For the museum, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing is more of a mile marker than an endpoint. In fact, in many ways, it’s just the beginning.

“We’re celebrating not just this one anniversary, but what folks are calling the summer of space. There are many kinds of landmarks in space exploration that happened this summer, and we’re excited to be part of that,” said Barker.

Here’s another bit of moon history you’ll find in the museum: a watch worn on the moon on the outside of the spacesuit, by an Apollo 15 astronaut.

The American Computer and Robotics Museum is the oldest continuously operating museum of its kind in the United States. It’ open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 2023 Stadium Drive in Bozeman.

-John Sherer reporting for MTN News