Atomic Awesome

Good Use of Government Resources

You may remember the SAGE network from such posts as Expand Your Radar Horizons (Parts 1 and Duex), and possibly some other I am forgetting regarding missile defense during the Cold War years. SAGE stands for Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, and essentially was a network of radar installations coupled with what passed for serious computing power at the time, creating a system that combined live radar input with pre-established flight information from commercial airliners that would give operators a live picture of the air traffic in the airspace of the US and Canada. Anything that was out of place could quickly be isolated and intercepted. At the heart of all this was of course the computer, the AN/FSQ-7 (2 computers per SAGE center, 21 such centers around the US), “the largest computer system ever built, each of the 24 installed machines[7]:9 weighed 250 tons and had two computers.[8] The AN/FSQ-7 used a total of 60,000 vacuum tubes[8] (49,000 in the computers)[7]:9 and up to 3 megawatts of electricity, performing about 75,000 instructions per second for networking regional radars.” (Wikipedia)

So what do you do with such a powerful computer system, which also happens to be the second ever real-time computer with an electronic graphical display? Why you use the situation display console, a 19-inch cathode ray tube (CRT) display (which drew vector-based lines or alphanumeric characters on any portion of the screen) to display a more, say, entertaining image!

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