Eidophor: Mission Control’s crazy screen

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Apollo 11 movie. One of the things that surprised me was the huge main screen in Mission Control. I associate 60s computers with teletype and blinking lights, maybe a monochrome CRT. All of this was evident in the 1969 Mission Control.

When I think of 60s space computer, the Apollo guidance computer comes to mind.

But the main Mission Control screen was 10ft x 20ft with multiple crisp colors. Was this possible?

Obviously it was, and they had a monster budget. I was reading this article on Ars Technica where it explains all the stations in Mission Control. The section on the eidophor main screen surprised me. It wasn’t a monitor at all! At least not how I understand it. Rather than pixels, it consisted of multiple overlaid transparencies. Some of the transparencies were erasable with a stylus in the machine. It sounded a lot like an Etch-A-Sketch!

So the mainframe was controlling this box that shifted around multiple transparencies, while also scratching out a graph with a stylus. And this was probably programmed with punch cards. It was an era when putting white text on a black screen was pretty hot stuff, and they engineered a way to display real-time navigational data (for a spaceship) in hi-def on a giant screen. Amazing stuff.


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