What Happened Today, April 17th

 
Harvard Mark I Operating

Harvard University President James Conant writes to IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. to let him know that the Harvard Mark I, developed in cooperation between the two, was operating smoothly. The project was one of the many examples of wartime collaboration among the federal government, universities, and private corporations. In his letter, Conant noted that the Mark I already was "being used for special problems in connection with the war effort."

What Happened This Week

The April 12 launch of the space shuttle Columbia - the first orbital flight of the shuttle program
The April 12 launch of the space shuttle Columbia - the first orbital flight of the shuttle program
 
Shuttle Launch Delayed

During preparations for the maiden voyage of the Columbia space shuttle, NASA engineers were monitoring a glitch in the shuttle’s computer systems. Synchronization between the main and backup AP-101 flight control computers was found to be the culprit behind the bug. Two gears were discovered to be out-of-sync – and repair would take at least a day to resolve the problem. Liftoff was re-scheduled for two days later, and countdown and launch on April 12 proceeded with no further setbacks. Columbia landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert after orbiting Earth 34 times. NASA’s five space shuttles each housed 4 IBM AP-101 computers, with a fifth serving as a backup flight system computer. The AP-101s were built around transistor-transistor logic (TTL) semiconductor circuits and used the same architecture as the IBM System/360 family of computers. An earlier version of the AP-101 was first announced by IBM in 1966 as the 4Pi computer.

 
German Computer Designer Zuse Files for Patent

German computer pioneer Konrad Zuse files for a patent for the automatic execution of calculations, a process he invents while working on what would become the Z-1, Germany's first computer. In the patent application, Zuse offers the first discussion of programmable memory, using the term "combination memory" to describe breaking programs down into bit combinations for storage. This is the first device to calculate in binary with translation to decimal. Zuse goes on to build a series of computers.

 
HP-41 Calculator Used in Space

The HP-41 calculator is used on board NASA's first space shuttle flight. The HP-41 allowed astronauts to calculate the exact angle at which they needed to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

 
Mathematics Pioneer Ulam Born

Stan Ulam, a mathematician who did early theoretical work on the use of computers in mathematics, is born in Poland. Ulam teaches at Harvard and the University of Wisconsin before joining the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he meets John von Neumann. There, Ulam and von Neumann discuss using computers to understand questions of pure mathematics. Based on the ENIAC experience, Ulam suggested to von Neumann that neutron diffusion and related chain reactions were natural applications and just as quickly outlined a procedure to implement the notion.

 
Chinese Government Works to Purge its Agencies of Illegal Software

The Chinese government launches widespread efforts to purge governmental agencies of illegally copied software, a practice that had been costing US software publishers millions of dollars. The plan calls for allotting more money to purchase software while giving an enforcement agency the power to prosecute anyone bootlegging software. The announcement follows a March meeting at which China had signed an accord with the United States vowing to crackdown on piracy.

 
First West Coast Computer Faire Begins

The first West Coast Computer Faire begins, introducing personal computers, in both kit and assembled form, to a new audience--the general public. It was an important year for personal computing as three of the most popular personal computing systems of all time were announced then: the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the Radio Shack TRS-80. The Faire, held at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium & Brooks Hall, exposed tens of thousands of enthusiasts and the curious to a coming revolution in computing that would change all of our lives. The first Faire is one of the most significant events in the history of personal computing.

 
"LISP" Language Unveiled

The programming language that provided the basis for work in artificial intelligence, LISP, has its first public presentation. Created by John McCarthy, LISP offers programmers flexibility in organization and it or its descendants are still used in the AI development environment.

 
Harvard Mark I Operating

Harvard University President James Conant writes to IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. to let him know that the Harvard Mark I, developed in cooperation between the two, was operating smoothly. The project was one of the many examples of wartime collaboration among the federal government, universities, and private corporations. In his letter, Conant noted that the Mark I already was "being used for special problems in connection with the war effort."