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The Genesis of NASA RECON William Mitchell Professor of Information Science University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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Presentation on theme: "The Genesis of NASA RECON William Mitchell Professor of Information Science University of Arkansas at Little Rock."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Genesis of NASA RECON William Mitchell Professor of Information Science University of Arkansas at Little Rock

2 This is the story of a new computer company in the middle 1960s that had innovative ideas and proven leadership, but missed a golden opportunity. This is the story of a half-dozen men who played a pivotal role in the development of scientific information systems, simply by bringing them into existence when the experts doubted their feasibility. This is also the story about an untold story that has been consistently misreported in the literature, illustrating again that the winners write history.

3 The Bunker-Ramo Corporation The Martin-Marietta Electronics Division in Maryland was merged early in 1964 with TRW's Computer Division in Canoga Park. Together they formed a private company, The Bunker-Ramo Corporation, 90% owned by Martin-Marietta. In 1964 John Parker was president of Teleregister Corporation, a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Stamford, CN that offered on-line technology to the airline and brokerage industries. Parker was also a member of the Board of Directors of Martin-Marietta where George Bunker was the president. Bunkers career was in aerospace and he was a good friend of Simon Ramo who had proposed creating Bunker-Ramo. Parker convinced them that the smaller Teleregister Corporation should be merged into Bunker-Ramo. Herbert Mitchell had joined Teleregister at Parkers invitation in August of 1962 as VP for Advanced Research. Parker, Luther Harr, Teleregisters VP for Marketing, and Mitchell had worked together at Univac. Mitchell worked on Teleregisters airline seat reservation systems products and designed a high-speed switching computer that was proposed to the National Security Agency in 1963.

4 Dr. Simon Ramo deserves recognition as a statesman and executor of US high technology. He co-founded two Fortune 500 companies. One of these was TRW [initially Ramo-Wooldridge in 1953], an enormously successful defense electronics firm that put together the complex systems required for the first American intercontinental ballistic missile. The other company was Bunker-Ramo, a computer venture [founded in 1964]; Allied Corporation, now Allied Signal, acquired it in 1981.

5 Herbert F. Mitchell, Jr. Ph.D. Applied Mathematics, Harvard, 1948 (helped Howard Aiken build the Mark II) Joined Eckert-Mauchly on November, 1949 and continued with Univac and Sperry Rand until 1959 (chief programmer on the UNIVAC I, later sales manager) Honeywell Collins Radio Teleregister/Bunker-Ramo 67 TRW NASA: Goddard Space Center.

6 Three Independent Divisions Parker became Chairman of the Board of a new, public Bunker- Ramo on July 6, 1964 and Simon Ramo assumed the Presidency. Milton Mohr headed the computer group in Canoga Park that was experienced in government contracting. For two years Mitchell had been commuting bi-weekly from Los Angeles to Stamford and now asked to join the Canoga Park group. He was made staff VP charged with commercializing that divisions expertise. The new company was scrambling for business as the Teleregister was the only profitable division and it was loosing its airline reservations business to IBM while continuing to maintain its position in the brokerage quotation business. Simon Ramo was interested in on-line information retrieval and that fall he suggested to Mitchell to explore how the Teleregister divisions expertise in on-line desktop communications could be brought to bear on this problem. I conceived the idea of combining several [computer-based information systems ] into a single service, and set up a project to develop the idea. Mitchell autobiography

7 The NASA Proposal The Unsolicited Proposal for the Direct Electronic Library, describing centralized Electronic Reference Centers distributing citation data to distributed users via telephone lines was delivered to NASA at the end of NASA subsequently issued a public solicitation to implement a prototype system. Meanwhile, NASA advertised for bidders to provide a pilot system of remote information retrieval for their many centers across the nation. This seemed to me to be an ideal way of getting started in the broad field I had been proposing, and persuaded our management to bid on the contract. I also persuaded management to do the programming without charge so we could have proprietary rights to it when the contract was completed. Mitchell autobiography On April 12, 1965 Mitchell distributed 6 copies of a detailed functional specification of the operation of the Direct Electronic Library (Simon Ramo also received a copy).

8 Melvin S. Day joined NASA in 1960 as Deputy Director, Office of Technical Information and Education, and became Director, Technical Information Division in He reorganized and expanded the information services that NASA had taken control of from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He also contracted Documentation Inc. to develop a science-technology information processing center and contracted American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to provide information about published, nonfederal literature in the space sciences. --

9 NASAs Vision for Bibliographic Retrieval Van A. Wente directed systems development for Day and plotted the strategy for introducing on-line retrieval (called the Retrieval Dialog Study-- Simpson & Flanagan, 1966 ). Under Wente NASA had already placed in many field center libraries duplicate copies of the documents indexed at headquarters. The documents, in nearly every case, could be viewed immediately either as journal articles, books, proceedings, full-size reports, or microfiche…back to 1962 (Wente, 1971). These duplicate libraries were under-utilized because of the effort involved in manual searching the paper indices, so the missing piece was on-line citation searching, which NASA had already decided to call RECON, short for REmote CONsole (Bourne & Bellardo, in-press). Dissemination of access to NASAs citation collection, precisely as Mitchells proposal described, would permit in most cases not simply the identification of a document that could be delivered in several days, but the alerting of a local librarian who could supply the document within the hour! Indeed, any failure to have full document text available would clearly break the full chain of feedback and iteration which on- line systems usually employ (Wente, 1971).

10 A batch searching service was offered by NASA on an IBM 1401, and W. T. Brandhorst of Documentation Inc. reported in 1966 that DI has prepared, edited, and delivered over 1000 searches in 1965, all of which, if not exclusively machine searches, received their major contributions from a machine search. Imagine Days excitement in 1964 at Bunker-Ramos suggestion that over 50,000 searches per month could be conducted from any NASA facility in the country at a cost of $1 each! NASA knew that there were still other organizations with interest and technology appropriate to mounting a bibliographic retrieval system of this scale so Wente developed specifications that in April 1965 resulted in NASAs issuance of a request for proposals to develop a prototype system employing the full NASA collection, then about 200,000 documents, in a realistic environment of research libraries with direct use of the system by working NASA scientists and engineers. By a formal competitive process, NASA selected the Bunker-Ramo Corporation to conduct the test principally at three NASA locations using remote terminals and programs owned by that company and operated through a UNIVAC 1050 computer located in New York City (Wente, 1971).

11 I n 1964 an event occurred that would alter computing and information retrieval forever a third-generation computer was introduced by IBM, the IBM 360 series. Third-generation computers were the first computers that combined mass random access disks, CRT terminals, and telecommunications and as such, ushered in interactive computing. What this meant for information retrieval was that massive databases could be stored centrally and access could be offered worldwide. The idea of services to a global marketplace from an efficient, centralized computer facility was unheard of at the time but was exciting beyond belief. Reflections on the Beginnings of Dialog The Birth of Online Information Access by Roger Summit Did You Know... The name for the system, "Dialog," occurred to me in My wife Ginger and I, with our two babies, Jennifer and Scott, were on our way to Portland to visit her parents. She was driving and I was dictating a project plan, for what was to become Dialog, into a small, voice- activated tape recorder. But what should the project be called? The system was to be interactive between human and machine. The searcher in a sense said, "This is what I want," and the machine replied in effect, "This is what I have." Described that way, we decided why not call it "Dialog." And, that was it! Roger Summit

12 I arranged a meeting with Mel Day in Washington D.C. in During the meeting, Mel responded to my description of the utility of Dialog by explaining that he had a dozen or so people a week describing systems that could do most anything short of reading your mind. He said he had to see it in operation to believe its effectiveness. After further discussion I offered to submit an unsolicited proposal to install Dialog on the NASA database and conduct an evaluation of the approach at the Ames Research Center in Mt. View, California. He responded by issuing a request for proposal (RFP) in April of 1965 incorporating the features we had discussed. We submitted a bid. Much to our chagrin and enormous disappointment, we learned that Bunker Ramo had also submitted a proposal and had been awarded the prototype contract. As this contract was to be our avenue to proof-of- concept as well as a vehicle for becoming independent of Lockheed independent research funding, I felt we had lost a major opportunity, and we needed to come up with another alternative. I decided we should submit a very low-cost proposal, one within Mel Day's discretionary funding limit, for a parallel experiment, arguing that this way NASA would have a backup in case the Bunker Ramo system didn't work out to their satisfaction.--

13 A summary of the interesting bidding process is reported as follows: In 1964 after some discussion with Mel Day of NASA, Roger Summit prepared a proposal to NASA to use DlALOG for the automation of the NASA information system. Daniel Sullivan of Bunker Ramo also bid on the proposal and received the award to develop the prototype for the later Bunker Ramo System. The initial request for proposals asked for 20 ideas in the system specifications. At that time DlALOG included 19 of these ideas. Undaunted, Summit prepared an unsolicited proposal for a parallel experiment to be run between the NASA-Ames Research Center and the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory. NASA specified a dial-up teletype protocol and purchased the Bunker Ramo equipment to support the project. After two years, the Bunker Ramo experiment proved unfruitful and NASA dropped it. --- html

14 The NASA Contract In 1964, after discussion with Day, Summit prepared an unsolicited proposal to use a Lockheed-developed online search system for automating the NASA information system. Unknown to Summit, Simon Ramo of Bunker-Ramo had also talked to Day and Wente about the same issue, and had also submitted an unsolicited proposal (Wente, 1995). NASA responded by issuing a Request for Proposals in April 1965 to develop a prototype online system that was to employ the full NASA collection (then about 200,000 documents), in a realistic library environment with direct use by scientists and engineers (Hlava, 1978). –Bourne, unpublished book Bunker-Ramo approved the submittal of the prototype proposal developed by Mitchell, including not charging for programming. Contract NASW 1369 was awarded to Bunker-Ramo in the Fall of 1965 that called for NASA to fund the conversion of their data and the rental of demonstration equipment and telecommunications costs for a two month trial of NASA RECON. We can surmise based upon published descriptions of other prototypes that Bunker-Ramo proposed the most ambitious test.

15 The unsolicited proposal had described setting up a nationwide network to connect 15 NASA installations employing 34,236 personnel. In a single center configuration these CRT consoles would communicate with a single computer and its disk file controller, which limited to 100 the number of concurrent searches that could be accomplished across the system. A single center system was projected to cost $54,500 per month and provide for 54,500 searches per month to NASA at the targeted $1 per search, with a peak capacity of 350,000 searches. A three-center system was estimated to cost $108,500 per month, hence providing 108,500 searches at $1 each, but having a peak capacity of 1,050,000 searches per month. If 12 centers were configured, the cost grew to $349,000 per month with a peak capacity of 4,200,000 searches (over 5 searches per workday for every NASA employee).

16 Mitchell described a search strategy based on isolating a list of accession numbers by specifying a primary attribute (author, title, source, date, etc.) and then refining that list by applying key words: The computer at the center will attempt to match each such key word against a master list containing all indexed key words for the chosen category plus all anticipated synonyms of these. As each successive key word is entered, the computer responds with a rejection indication if it fails to identify the key word, or the number of articles which are associated with that key word (or its synonym) and all earlier accepted key words. Further restrictions upon selection may be imposed by specifying inclusive dates of publication, role status of the key word, type of article, size of article, sophistication of treatment, etc., as is deemed desirable. Each specification adds to cost of indexing, of storage, and of selection. When the number of isolated articles has reached a sufficiently small value, the user requests display of titles, and then proceeds as described for a direct reference [display of the full citation and instructions for ordering the full article] --Mitchell, 1964





21 Implementation NASA contractors provided magnetic tapes off an IBM 1410 in Suitland, MD, for the two years of citations that had been published in bi-weekly printed indices. This collection was updated with a new tape bi-weekly for the duration of the project and the citation collection that was growing at 2000 documents a week reached 275,000 citations by the date the trial began. –It took several months to work out with the contractors the format of the tapes. Mitchell wrote the file inversion program that ran on a GE computer in Canoga Park and created files for the Univac 1150 that was to host the Bunker-Ramo consoles with all of the citation records on its magnetic drum. New tapes were shipped from California to NYC with each update from NASA. When the conversion program was completed and the backlog converted in May 1966, Mitchell drove to NYC with 50 reels of tape and a Users Manual titled NASA/RECON---COMPUTER/ LIBRARY AT YOUR DESK. It was then up to four programmers at work in Maryland to complete and test 60 program modules.

22 Two-Month Trial Six NASA centers used 23 consoles via telephone lines to conduct on-line bibliographic searches for two months starting in October of Two reports document the trial: –NASA/RECON User's Manual: A Test Operation for Remote Console Retrieval of Scientific and Technical Aerospace Information Conducted by Bunker-Ramo Corporation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Scientific and Technical Information Division. October 1966 [NBS #: ]. –Evaluation of the User Reactions to a Prototype On-Line Information Retrieval System, Meister, D. and Sullivan, D. J. (of the Human Factors group at Bunker- Ramo Corp). Published October [NASA Contractor Report Number: NASA-CR- 918] Three major areas of user dissatisfaction identified in the evaluation –User Manual ambiguity concerning deletion of query terms and the manner of implementation of the OR function –Sluggish system response to the Transmit key. –Dismay with the indexing system: RECON users were brought into very close personal contact with the characteristics of the present indexing system; this intimacy caused them to attribute some of their dissatisfaction with indexing terms to RECON (Meister, 1967).

23 Success Van Wente, however, looked at the nearly 350 successful searches per week and concluded that the test showed that working scientists and engineers both could and would use a hands-on retrieval terminal, and further, that they could obtain useful results directly with no inter- mediary personnel and only a minimum of instruction ( Wente, 1971 ). NASA was very pleased. In addition to its significant performance in its primary role, RECON was successfully utilized to (1) update the very bibliographic collections upon which it is based, (2) trace the evolution of work in a given field, (3) provide a chronological record of an authors work, and (4) trace the history of corporate involvement in a given field ( Meister and Sullivan, 1967 ).

24 Productivity Unmatched for Two more Years Lancaster and Fayen (1973) begin their review of Meister and Sullivans report with Over a 7 week experimental period a staggering 6133 uses were recorded at six separate NASA centers. Other reviewers seem not to understand that no other online bibliographic retrieval system accumulated that number of uses (or that number of hours) for at least two more years (for the first 80 hour DIALOG test at Ames Lancaster cites Summits report that the system was down 24% of the scheduled time and in all 96 searches were completed. In a subsequent 12 month trial at NASA headquarters only 13% of the 300 scheduled terminal hours were lost and approximately 300 searches were conducted).

25 Business and Politics Milt Mohr was not interested in his division getting into commercial ventures but had tolerated Ramos request to host Mitchell. He refused to contribute his research funds to the RECON project and had only allowed the GE computer to be used third shift to accomplish the file inversion. Luther Harr had set up an east coast service bureau for brokerage houses and wanted to commit a significant piece of the Univac 1050 to this operation, which was much more profitable than the rates that NASA was paying to run the prototype. Before the trial began Simon Ramo stepped down and Milt Mohr became CEO of Bunker-Ramo and Harr continued as Executive VP. Mitchell was asked to leave the company. NASA had no funds to commit to ramping up the prototype, but they asked to continue month-to-month at the contracted rate. Mohr doubled the cost of extending the trial on the pretext of recouping the losses of the low bid, but never expected that NASA would accept the new terms. Bunker-Ramo owned the programs for the project and the data files, but NASA had the project documentation and experience with the system acquired under the test contract.

26 What If… Simon Ramo had pushed Milt Mohr to put Bunker- Ramos resources behind the RECON project? –The test would have been hosted on a modern computer and implemented in nine months instead of sixteen. –The users manual would have been implemented as designed. Bunker-Ramo had pursued its relationship with NASA? –Mitchell, instead of Roger Summit, would have had proof of concept and momentum to move to the delivery of other databases. –Bunker-Ramo had the networking experience and marketing ability to offer on-line access to bibliographic data anywhere in the country, reliably, and inexpensively (it took Summit three years to learn how to scale up network access).

27 Recognition of Dr. Herbert F. Mitchell Questions & Comments



30 Allowed to delete only last term specified Search procedure implemented for trial

31 APPLICATIONS General purpose computing, on-line and real-time uses such as Banking, Airline Reservations, Communications Switching, Passenger-Record Retrieval; these on-line systems work with nationwide communications networks consisting of high-speed (up to 1,200 bits sec) and low-speed (up to 200 words/min) facilities. Switching, terminating and transceiver apparatus for these networks are provided by the manufacturer. RELIABILITY, OPERATING EXPERIENCE Teleregister on-line systems have been operating with a record of 99.8% up-time since The systems employ duality and built-in controls to maintain reliability, coupled with rigid preventive maintenance. They have on-line capability for 24hours per day, 7- day per week service. INSTALLATIONS Processors United Air Lines, Inc., Denver, Colo. 3 Trans World Air Lines, New York Idlewild 2 Howard Savings Institution, Newark, N.J. 2 Union Dime Savings Bank, New York, N.Y. 2 Society for Savings, Hartford, Conn. 2 Teleregister TeleCenter, 75 Varick Street, New York, N.Y. 3 BRL 1964, TELEREGISTER TELEFILE,

32 The FASTRAND tm II The FASTRAND II random-access mass storage system was one of the most impressive peripherals ever attached to a commercial computer. Used with the UNIVAC 1108 computer, it provided the first permanent file storage capability in the UNIVAC 1100 series family. No UNIVAC programmer who ever encountered No UNIVAC programmer who ever encountered a FASTRAND is likely to forget it. It was big, heavy (it weighed about two and a quarter tons, and required special reinforcement of the raised floor it sat on), had a large window lit by flourescent lights which let you see the two huge drums rotating in opposite directions at 880 revolutions per minute and the heads jumping back and forth as various tracks were accessed

33 1963: UNIVAC 1050 is a solid state, character addressable computing sub-system. It has a basic magnetic core memory of 8,192 six-bit alphanumeric characters that can be expanded in modules of 4,096 characters to a maximum capacity of 32,768. The 1050 was designed to supplement the parallel processing capabilities of the UNIVAC III, 490 Real Time, and 1107 Thin Film Memory computing systems.

34 IBM 360 Computer IBM System 360, Model 30, Memory size: up to 64K bytes, 1965 (3 times faster processor and memory access speed than the 1050)

35 IBM 2314 STORAGE CAPACITY llem Per cylinder Per disk storage Per IBM 2314module Disk storage drives 8 Cylinders 200 1,600 Tracks 20 4,000 32,000 Bytes (alphameric characters)145,880 29,176, ,408,000 Packed decimal digits (numeric only)291,760 58,352, ,816,000 Transfer rate312,000 bytes/sec Average Seek Time85 milliseconds FASTRAN II Drum Bytes132,120,576 6-bit characters, Transfer rate100 kilobytes 1 per second Average access time92 milliseconds Read/write heads64, on a movable boom between the two drums Disk vs. Drum in 1965

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