Where is the Apollo Project Documentation?

While the available online documentation is helpful and interesting, it is only a tiny fraction of the documentation produced by the Apollo project.  So where is the rest of it?

I don't actually know the full answer to the question posed above—for example, I don't currently know where many versions of the AGC source code is stored.  (Probably somewhere in the musty depths of Draper Labs, never to be viewed again by mortals such as you or I.)  But I do know where a lot of documentation is hiding. 

The Wonders of N.A.R.A.

A lot of U.S. government documentation is not thrown away, but rather is eventually retired to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  NARA maintains a number of centers about the country, in which the records for the geographical region associated with that center are stored.  I happen to live in Dallas, Texas, and since the Johnson Space Center (JSC)—formerly the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC)—is in the vicinity of Houston, my first hope was that perhaps JSC may have preserved some of the Apollo documentation.  Well, perhaps JSC has preserved such documentation—the extensive historical archive search engine on their website certain implies that they have!—but I was advised by the NASA history office that JSC's documentation would long since have been sent to the NARA center for the Southwest Region, which happens to be in Forth Worth, Texas, a mere hour from Dallas.   So I went over and looked.

It's difficult to believe the quantity of Apollo-related documentation to be found at NARA's Southwest Region center.  The NARA archivists measure it by shelf-foot rather than by document or by number of pages.  I can only assume that the amount of Apollo-related documentation lurking at the other NARA centers is equally staggering.

Indiana Jones

Normally, when you visit NARA, you're expected to know what you're looking for, so that the archivists can pull it from the stacks for you.  In other words, researchers such as myself are not allowed in the stacks.  I was lucky enough not to know exactly how to describe what I was looking for—namely, the AGC source code—but to know what it would look like when I saw it, so I had the privilege of being escorted into the stacks briefly for a visual survey of the MIT-related Apollo records.  It was much like the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the ark of the covenant is wheeled into a vast warehouse where it can never be found again.  The main difference, though, is that NARA stacks are more packed and not so open and airy as the Raiders warehouse.  The NARA personnel (at least in the Southwest region) are, however, very friendly, and very eager to help you find what you are looking for.  I've never had any experience with governmental entities as pleasant as my experiences at NARA.

"Record Group 255"

A summary of the records transferred to NARA-Southwest from the Johnson Space Center—so-called Record Group 255—can be seen (in Microsoft Word format) by clicking here.   If you examine this summary, you'll find that the records for the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office—and these aren't all of the Apollo-related records, by any means—total an astounding 730 feet of shelf space.  (For some reason, the document linked above seems to double estimates of shelf-space, so you have to halve most of the estimates to get an accurate idea.)

Record Group 255 is subdivided into groupings identified by "entry numbers".  Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) data begin at entry number E.205T5 ("general subject files") and end with entry number E.216 ("microfilm aperture cards of drawings"), but Apollo-related information may be found in many other groupings as well.  Each grouping is itself subdivided into a sequence of boxes; most of the boxes are 4" thick (i.e., capable of holding a 4"-thick stack of documents), though some boxes (like those holding "drawings" or microfilm) are much bigger.

Since M.I.T.'s Instrumentation Lab developed the AGC software, it seems logical to look for AGC data within the records designated E.209G, "Massachusetts Institute of Technology Documents"—fortunately, only 20 feet of shelf space.  The records within E.209G were never fully indexed when transferred from JSC to NARA, so I have prepared my own index, which you can view by clicking here.  The records for E.209G are stored in 59 four-inch-thick boxes, so to find any particular document, you need to know which box it is in, so that that box can be pulled from the stack.

I have scanned various documents from E.209G which are important to the Virtual Apollo project, but which aren't available elsewhere online, or which are only available in a corrupted form elsewhere online.  You can find these scans on my Links page.

Finding Aids

My goal in sifting through NARA's JSC holdings was, of course, to locate versions of Colossus and Luminary (and Sundisk and Skylark) software not previously available on the web.  In this, I was ultimately unsuccessful.  However, as I expanded my search beyond merely the MIT technical documentation described above, I found it expedient to create some finding aids that would let me come back (perhaps a few months or years) later and retrieve documents from NARA that are interesting but not immediately urgent.  (The red links were formerly not available at this site because of disk-space limitations, but should be available now.)
As you will perceive, these miserable little finding aids barely scratch the surface.  Perhaps 10-20% of documents are covered.  Drawings have not been covered at all.

Where's the AGC Software?

Ideally, I would really like to have is each version of the AGC software, including all intermediate versions (hundreds of them!), and all off-line development code (essentially, branch development).  Failing that, I'd like to have just enough software to fly each mission ... whereas at the moment I'm writing this, we can only "fly" the unmanned Apollo 4-6 missions and the manned Apollo 8, 11, and 15-17 missions.  Admittedly, since those include the first lunar orbital mission, the first lunar landing mission, and the last lunar missing, that's not a bad selection!  And failing that ... well, any AGC version other than the versions presently available online!

All of which adds up to precisely nothing, in terms of answering the question in the title to this section, because for the most part, I don't know how to find the missing versions, or else I wouldn't be asking for your help!  So all I can really advise is to seek and ye may find.  And if ye find, pr'thee dost tell me.

This page is available under the Creative Commons No Rights Reserved License
Last modified by Ronald Burkey on 2017-03-01.

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