Seventy years ago on December 7, the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. The Japanese not only invaded Pearl Harbor, but also almost simultaneously, attacked Thailand, Shanghai, Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Midway, and Wake. A few days later they invaded Burma; a few days later, British Borneo. Hong Kong fell on Christmas, North Borneo, Manila, and the U.S. base in the Philippines fell in January. Coordinated attacks on multiple targets are not a terrorist tactic invented by Al Qaida.
My father is a veteran of WW II. We were both invited to the White Sands Missile Range Christmas Ball on Friday night, December 9th. We sat with young men on active duty, some soon to be deployed. All were without their families. They sang the Christmas songs, but soon fell silent. It was easy to see they had a lot on their minds.
I also met Colonel Ferrari, the new WSMR Commander. In a recent Alamogordo Daily News interview, Colonel Ferrari said “WSMR’s workforce, most of whom live in Las Cruces, has earned wide acclaim and respect for the quality of work it has done since White Sands opened as a military weapons test and evaluation range on Jan. 9, 1945. Soldiers and civilian employees at WSMR have continued to turn conceptual ideas into reality, and Ferrari wants to be able to continue the initiative of taking a good thing and making it better”.
In this time where many people are still struggling with unemployment and we have a tent city within our city limits, I feel it is important to go back in time to remember what about us is still great. Colonel Ferrari said it well, our workforce can take good ideas and make them more useful, and hopefully continue to build our belief that one person, one group, one well run test can lead us away from a belief that maybe we are nation whose better days are behind us.
The Norden bombsight was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the US Military during World War II. Invented by Carl Norden, it was a mechanical analog computer made up of gyros, motors, gears, mirrors, levers and a telescope. Mathematically it determines the exact moment bombs had to be dropped to hit the target accurately. On later versions of the B-17G, the Norden bombsight would actually fly the plane through the bomb run while coupled to the airplanes controls. The official Norden website is http://www.squadron13.com/B17/Norden.htm.
We evolved a technology, a computer of sorts that would fly a plane in the 1940s. The Norden was used to navigate and control bomb release. This was among the other analog computers that were used at the time to help predict the tides for the D-Day landing, and also help with guidance and navigation for submarines. The analog computers did the work of mathematical calculations faster than humans and were less prone to error. Analog computers were used in the space program after the war, helped us in the early days of the satellite industry, and of course, were enabling technologies for the evolution of digital computing.
Winning the war was an all consuming task for our country. After the war, the training in wartime technologies for hundreds of thousands of men and women plus the GI Bill helped our country move into the economic boom of the fifties. The benefits of getting our ingenuity into the hands of thousands of soldiers paid off in the fifties and it will again. The all volunteer Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp and Merchant Marines are the front line warriors not only in winning the war on terror, but also potentially could help us win the battle for a strong economic future.
Analog computers do not run programs. The digital code evolved in programming languages created by Paul Allen and Bill Gates, created the capability for complex programs to run multiple machines that led to the personal computer revolution. Allen and Gates both felt powerful computers for home and business use would transform society. They were right. Paul Allen, always fascinated by space, backed Burt Rutan’s project that built the first private vehicles that went to space and won the XPRIZE. It was during those early years that Paul Allen met Richard Branson and realized Branson had a transformative vision. The first vehicle to go to space flew from White Sands Proving Grounds. Let’s look for more partnerships for innovation in the future from WSMR.