Apollo computer display/keyboard soars to $210K at RR Auction

The Apollo Guidance Computer Display and Keyboard (DSKY) unit from the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory used to verify the software patch needed to avoid an abort during the Apollo 14 lunar landing sequence. RR Auction image

BOSTON – A historically significant Apollo Guidance Computer Display and Keyboard (DSKY) sold for $210,261 at RR Auction’s Space & Aviation sale April 18. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.

The DSKY was the astronaut’s interface to the Apollo Guidance Computer developed by MIT and was critical to every aspect of the mission. Each program had a two-digit code and commands were entered as two-digit numbers in a verb-noun sequence. The device permitted the astronauts to collect and provide flight information necessary for the precise landings on the moon. It was the DSKY that provided the astronauts with critical burn times for engine firings, course corrections, trajectories, and other key calculations vital in getting a crew to and from the moon. The DSKY also reported the program alarm moments before the Lunar Module touched down on the lunar surface to land.

During Apollo 14, a loose ball of solder floating inside the abort switch of the Lunar Module Antares caused an intermittent short circuit, threatening to accidentally activate the switch and rocket the module back into orbit during its landing sequence.

To prevent that scenario, MIT computer programmer Don Eyles, a developer of the AGC’s source code, was asked to hack his own software to find a workaround. This represented the most dramatic moment for MIT’s programmers throughout the entire Apollo program, as they had just three to four hours to work out a fix, test it and relay it to the astronauts in time for Powered Descent Initiation. Eyles accomplished his task in just two hours, developing a 26-command sequence to be entered into the DSKY that reprogrammed the AGC to ignore the abort button. The codes were relayed to Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell with 10 minutes to spare, and the Lunar Module Antares successfully touched down on the lunar surface on Feb. 5, 1971.

The DSKY unit was accompanied by a detailed letter of provenance from the present owner, who was employed at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory to design, build and maintain the Control Module and Lunar Module cockpit simulators. He retained the DSKY in 1978 when the Lunar Module cockpit simulator was dismantled and discarded.

“I am not surprised this DSKY achieved a likely world record price, considering the historically significant role it played in saving the Apollo 14 mission,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive vice president at RR Auction.

Rare white A7LB Space Suit Thermal Micrometeorite Garment (TMG) Assembly made for Vance Brand, possibly used during training for the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project. Price realized: $88,586. RR Auction image

Highlights from the sale include:

  • Mercury Program Earth Path Indicator sold for $99,208.
  • Vance Brand’s A7LB Suit TMG Assembly sold for $88,586.
  • Dave Scott’s Apollo 15 surface Lunar Surface-Used Lunar Module Data Card Book sold for $88,580.
  • Apollo Program pressure helmet sold for $62,220.
  • Dave Scott’s Lunar Surface-Flown Apollo 15 Lunar Module Contingency Checklist sold for $43,751.
  • Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 Flown Lunar Surface Checklist sold $37,500.
  • Al Worden’s Apollo 15 Flown Spacesuit Patch sold for $33,218.