"Project Apollo"
by Paul Marshall Wortman
East Setauket, NY
November 15, 2006

In May 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke at our college graduation. While he joked that he now had the best of all possible worlds — "a Harvard education and a Yale [honorary] degree," he's now best remembered for the short-lived dream of Camelot, the Cuban missile crisis, and two lasting, political accomplishments — the Peace Corps and developing the space program by sending men to the moon within the decade. The latter became known as "Project Apollo." I guess this name was chosen because the Greek sun god, Apollo, sounded more positive than the moon or "Luna." One can only imagine all the "lunacy" jokes if that more accurate name had been chosen. As fate, or the gods, would have it, within a year I would be working on Project Apollo commissioned by President Kennedy.

By that time, I had just completed my first year of graduate school in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). My adviser, Allen Newell, had lined up a summer job for me at MIT's Lincoln Labs located on the Hanscom Field Air Force Base in Lexington, Massachusetts. MIT had the contract to write the computer code for the Apollo mission and I, and another CMU grad student, were hired as part of the small group of programmers to work on it. The job appealed to me because I liked programming and it was only two hours from my parents' home in Connecticut.

MIT, along with CMU, was emerging as a leading academic research center in the new field of computer science. Since the computer work required a secure off-campus, military site, MIT was using a remote programming system they had developed called Project MAC for "Machine-Aided Cognition." One sat at a terminal and typed, rather than keypunched, computer code. In this case, it was in Fortran. The programs were then immediately assembled, that is translated into machine language, and run at MIT's computer center twelve miles away in Cambridge. Within minutes, the output or results were printed. It was addicting, just like a human Skinner box where we were the pigeons pecking on the keyboard and our reward pellets were the outputs of our programming efforts. As we fell into this 24/7 reinforcement routine, we renamed MAC to stand for "Man and Concubine."

Our small group was treated to the latest videos from the space program. We were the first, outside of NASA, to see the astronauts walking in space and performing all the other technological feats that eventually took man to the moon. I only worked two summers at Lincoln Labs and never knew exactly what our programs were being used for. I guess in those youthful, naive days I was too focused on graduate work and dating to think much about a few summers' work outside of Boston.

However, just as the mighty Saturn rocket carried men through the arc of space, it also took me through a longer arc of time. Last spring I decided to respond to Steve Buck and Chris Bent who were debating the Iraq war. I wrote a Jungian analysis that was published on this website, "George W. Bush's Democratism: A Jungian Response to Buck and Bent." I immediately received an e-mail from Chris who supported the war. His e-mail name was "Frogfather" and he'd been a Navy Seal during the '60s. Now he is a retired Christian conservative living in Florida and very active in his church. As our e-mail conversation progressed, I learned we shared a common history beyond college. His proudest moment as a Seal was being the first man to open the bobbing capsule and welcome the Apollo astronauts home upon their return from space.

Suddenly, it hit me that we, too, were both joined in this event. Despite our seeming differences — he a Southern red state conservative, and I a Northern blue state liberal; he for the war, and I against; he a devout Christian calling the DaVinci Code "a blasphemy;" I a cultural Jew who thought, like Jung, that Dan Brown's book heralded the needed resurgence in the "sacred feminine" to restore the imbalance pervading the world — that we both could work together on arguably the most important technological adventure of our generation. For all I knew, my computer programs may well have been guiding the Apollo rocket through liftoff to landing. And there waiting for them was another classmate, Chris. I thought if only we could find that unity of purpose again.

Paul on holiday in France
Paul on holiday in France

(Paul's e-mail address is pwortman@enotes.cc.sunysb.edu.)

Chris' Response