Hall, Battin, Hoag, and Others in SCAMA for the Apollo 8 Moon Mission

In Their Own Words: Leonard Wilk on Draper’s Early Apollo Work

Leonard S. Wilk
David Hoag
Dr. Charles Stark Draper
Ralph Ragan for Brochure
Photos Of Milton Trageser For Brochure

"When the Apollo contract was issued Doc Draper assigned Ralph Ragan to the program. Others were also selected also but I think Ralph was first. With Navy agreement, Ralph recruited Dave Hoag, and then myself and others from the Polaris program. Of course at this point, Apollo was almost a blank sheet. Offices were acquired at 224 Albany St. and Dave expressed the thought that perhaps the program should use the International Units rather than our English Units. I pulled together a Units conversion report for Dave which must have been one of the first reports produced. (The idea went nowhere.) At this time, MIT recognized that Apollo was going to be a big effort and leased the building at 75 Cambridge Parkway. 90,000 square feet and it turned out to be not enough. With the Labs’ experience with testing gyros and the Polaris guidance equipment, it was known that a motionless, stable floor might be need. With the building literally 10 feet from the Charles River Basin, which has a tide of some 6 inches, I was tasked to measure its movement. (Which I did and the floor would tilt about 20 arc seconds twice day.)

In those early days NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) was chosen to lead the Program.  NACA was eventually renamed as NASA.  Some of us would make trips to the NACA facilities at Langley Field in Hampton Virginia. The program was so ill defined that about all we could do is view the aircraft test facilities and get to know the people. I recall that after the assassination of the President and Houston was selected as the spacecraft center, these NACA engineers (now NASA engineers) rebelled greatly at having to transfer their families from the Washington area to the Houston area. But they went.

As we started to occupy 75 Cambridge Parkway, and more and more staff was coming on board, it was not clear who had the final say on a number of issues. Ralph had offices in the second floor and was in effect managing the contract issues. Dave, John Nugent, John Miller and I were on the first floor, mostly involved with the design of the hardware aspects. Phil Bowditch took on the negotiations with North American incorporating the Draper equipment into the Command Module along with the design of the optics. Norm Sears coordinating with Grumman for the LEM guidance system. Eldon Hall for the design of the computer.  Dick Batten for the software. Milt Trageser for spaceflight issues. Although this sounds definitive, this was a loose collaboration in typical Draper fashion. And in typical Draper fashion conflicts would come up. Draper finally decided that one head was needed and he appointed Milt Trageser to be chief. This did not resolve the issues as needed and among other things Ralph Ragan left for Raytheon. Milt was then replaced as director by Dave Hoag, who as I understood, wouldn’t take the position unless he could have Ralph back to do the management tasks. John Miller then took on Dave's old position. In my view things quickly got organized and proceeded on a much firmer basis.

For myself, I had a well-defined task. That was to set up the ability to take completed guidance equipment from completion to its incorporation into the spacecraft. Not only for the initial units that were made in house but also the production units. I formed the System Test group, 23T, with three divisions: 1) lab testing, 2) software testing and software coordination of the lab's equipment with other facilities, and 3) administering our field personnel at Cape Canaveral, Houston, North American Aviation, Grumman and AC Spark Plug. Daphne Henderson was my assistant and I could not have done it without her.

The comradery, the lack of office politics, the Friday relaxation at the MIT Faculty club after work, the MIT/IL parties were wonderful."