Astronauts Collins and Schirra With Engineer James Elm

In Their Own Words: Michael Collins on the 'Ballroom and Basketball' Lab

Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins
Dr. Charles Stark Draper

Astronaut Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, visited the MIT Instrumentation Lab during his training for the Apollo missions on the Guidance and Navigation systems.  He recalls his time at the lab with memories of Doc Draper the engineer and ballroom dancer, as well as the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) a ground breaking new technology that would be critical to navigating the Apollo astronauts to the moon and back.  

"I always find MIT interesting, particularly the Draper Lab, known in my day as the Instrumentation Lab. 

Another name, which I never shared, but which always surfaced in my memory, was the Basketball and Ballroom Lab:  "Basketball" because the IMU, the Inertial Measurement Unit that was the heart of the Apollo navigational system, was the size and shape of a basketball and "Ballroom" because Stark Draper would occasionally show up on Monday with a weekend trophy won at a regional Dance contest. 

Sports and arts, I tried to include them when I joined the MIT cadre of technical brains sending us to the moon. ~ Mike Collins”