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NASA scientists with their board of calculations, 1957


Before the days of computers, NASA employees would go about communicating their knowledge in a more painstaking way: chalk, boards, and potentially tears.

Scientists use math and physics to calculate complex spacecraft trajectories, navigation and orbits or spacecraft, and much more. The calculations were tedious and lengthy.

As for this picture, the photojournalist probably asked him to fill the board with complicated looking equations for the shot. These are general equations of motion, so nothing you don't have on a printed sheet of paper.

There is no "calculation" on that board, only reference equations. To be fair it was the middle of the Space Race, they wouldn't publish anything other than normal equations in the journal Life.


Before the development of electronic computers, the word "computer" referred to people, not machines. It was a job title to designate someone who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand.

Teams of people were often used to perform lengthy and often tedious calculations; The work was divided so that it could be done in parallel. In many cases, fairly sophisticated electrical devices were developed to help.

For a complex equation that relates and feeds on time-stages, NASA's leading scientists would have "math teams." Everyone will master one part of the equation.

Then the first guy will do his job and hand it over to the next guy and so on. Eventually, the last one will go back to the first person and give him new inputs for 1ms more time.

After a few hours you can have a pretty neat graph of everything in a period of 1-2 seconds. This is how the first nuclear reactors, atomic bombs, and a lot of aerospace calculations were done.

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