The M.I.T. Computation Center and Operation Moonwatch

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History of the M.I.T. Computation Center[edit]

The M.I.T. Computation Center, United States, organized in 1956 [1], housed an IBM 704 up until 1960 [2].

The M.I.T. Computation Center and Operation Moonwatch[edit]

After the successful launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, the race was on to calculate and predict where the first man-made satellites would appear in the sky. Fred Lawrence Whipple, then director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge Massachusetts, had gathered amateur astronomers to track artificial satellites in an organization called Operation Moonwatch. The aim was to get the position of the satellite in order to obtain its orbital elements. There were three separate orbiting objects which resulted from the launch of Sputnik: The satellite with radio transmitter, a nose cone and a booster rocket. The first "satisfactory orbit" calculated by the IBM 704 as official tracker for the SAO occurred at 7AM on October 11, 1957 and was for the booster rocket.


  • Christian Science Monitor, "Soviet Space-Satellite Rocket Sighted By Observation Teams in Cambridge", Oct 11, 1957, page 1
  • Tech Talk (MIT Newsletter), October 22, 1957 "A Lucky Seven"
  • tech engineering news, "moon track", March 1958, Vol XXXIX No. 6, p68
  • Beyer, Jean-David and Sidney Shinedling, "The i.b.m 704 computer at m.i.t" tech engineering news, May 1958, Vol XXXIX No. 8, p26
  • John P. Rossoni, "Technical aspects of satellite tracking on IBM computers at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts", JPL Seminar Proceedings (NASA Article Citation), Feb 26, 1960
  • Boston Evening Globe, "M.I.T Tracks Rocket", Oct 11, 1957, page 1
  • The Washington Post and Times Herald, "U.S. Finds Rocket's True Orbit", Saturday, October 12, 1957, Page A8
  • New York World-Telegram and The Sun, "Fix Orbit of Satellite Rocket", Friday, October 11, 1957, Page 1

External links[edit]