Mock Up AGC

In Their Own Words: Jim Kernan on Charley Muntz

James Kernan
Charles Muntz

In the Spring of 1962, I was working for AC Sparkplug on the Titan Ballistic Missile guidance system, an MIT/IL design, when I was asked to go to Boston and work on the Apollo program. That was a dream come true. I got to the AC Wakefield, MA office and, not having an assignment at the Lab, started learning the AGC (which was the early Mod 3C design) and the software (the executive and waitlist). These I discovered were designed by a guy name Hal Laning. There was no documentation, so I reverse engineered the programs to understand how they worked. They were elegant, and a tribute to the genius of Hal. The early listings that I was able to scrounge were authored by Charles (Charley) Muntz, Tom Lawton, and Hugh Blair-Smith

MIT held regular weekly 2nd floor conference room meetings so folks could report progress. It was an opportunity to corner one of the aforementioned experts with questions, and one time I showed Charley a coding error in the executive. He was thankful, a proud moment for me. Finally an opening developed in Len Wilk’s System Test Group working for Joe Fleming and I was transferred to IL/7. My first assignment was to write the Factory Acceptance Test for the guidance system. 

Charley Muntz and and Tom Lawton (TJ), were the dynamic duo who produced the first combined Block I assembly, SUNRISE along with the accompanying R-Note, “The Compleat SUNRISE”. Charley was from Rockford, IL and the nephew of Madman Muntz, a mid-century TV and Electronics hawker. I grew up in Milwaukee, 90 miles north of Chicago in the 1950’s, so we were exposed to Chicago TV, which featured shows such as Dave Garroway and Kukla, Fran and Ollie. There were lots of commercials by Madman Muntz. One of the first questions I asked of Charley was about Muntz TV and he confirmed his family connection. In addition to coding the early assemblies of the Executive and Waitlist, Charley also produced the Interpreter. The Interpreter was a reverse Polish notation list processor that executed double precision vector, matrix, and arithmetic subroutines in accordance with a list processing language. It was, and probable still is, the first and only such in a flight program. It was a key part of the Apollo software. Tom left the program prior to the introduction of the Block II AGC. Charley stayed on long enough to produce the first Block II assemble, RETREAD, which contained the operating system software (Executive, Waitlist, etc, but no mission related software). He also produced the first LM specific assembly AURORA, the LM equivalent of SUNDIAL the first Block II CM specific assembly. It was during this time that I volunteered to keep AURORA current to the changes being made to SUNDIAL as appropriate to the LM and Charley gladly accepted the offer.

Charles “Charley” Muntz  1940-2018

Charley earned a degree in engineering in 1962 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., where he was chairman of The Tech, the school newspaper, and was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.  Upon graduation, Charley worked at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, where he helped design the guidance system for the Apollo space program that took American astronauts to the moon and back in 1969.