Spaceship Earth: Computers – Mainframe

With technology moving so fast its no wonder that instead of looking ahead, it was easier for Disney to go back.   It does make sense given that this refurb was in 2007 and the scene prior to computers is from 1969 with the Moon landing – a lot has happened between!

As the narration says To send a man to the moon, we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers. We go from the Moon Landing scene on TV to a 1970’s mainframe computer room.   The room is so large that it takes up both sides of the track.  Finally for the first time since 1994 we see the right side of the track being used!

Mainframe

From the IBM Think logo we can hazard a guess that this room houses an IBM System 360  or 370 mainframe.

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The reason mainframes were “as big as a house” was because of all the separate components required to run the main console.  The consoles and various storage configurations included line printers, card readers and punches, plotters, tape and disk drives, optical scanners, remote entry devices, and disc drive storage.  The first computers were serviced by a staff (about 12 people) of operators and programmers (1).

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Magnetic Tape Drive

Looking to the left of your vehicle, the machines highlighted in the back of this gentleman are the magnetic tape drives.

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Each drive is a 9 track tape which is half-inch tape spooled on a large, open, reel. This tape is recorded with 9 tracks across the width of the tape; 8 of the tracks form one byte of data, and the 9th track records a parity bit (an error checking bit). Each tape could hold between 42 and 160 MB (2) which seems silly by today’s standards but magnetic tape was capable of storing a lot more data than punch cards.

Speaking of punch cards, a nice detail for the lab tech pulling tape drives has a punch card clipped to his binder.  He also appears to have put on a toupe since he first started the job.

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 Groovy Women Computin’!

To the right of our vehicle we see the popular “go-go dancer” computer tech.  As happy as I was to see a woman in this scene, I thought her outfit was a bit silly but after researching this era of computers – its actually not far from reality!  Since I’ve seen a few comments related to women and women of color in 1970’s computing – let me share what I learned.

Therefore, it is ENTIRELY appropriate for there to be a woman of color in this scene dressed how she is dressed without even remotely stretching history.

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Lest there be any doubt as to the popularity of this female computer engineer, she has been honored as one of the Vinylmation Park Starz!

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Mainframes Today

Mainframes are still in use today.  While a PC is designed to provide very fast processing to a single user, the mainframe’s role is to be able to control many tasks being run by many users simultaneously.  Transaction processing jobs run constantly in real-time and must be available more than 99.99 percent of the time.  Thousands of individual users can log in simultaneously from a variety of sources such as computer terminals, ATM machines, or web sites, and complete a single transaction (3).

TWINSIES!

I’m going to wager a guess that this gentleman working the tape drives was a Jewish scholar in his past life.

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The computer engineer used to be in the radio broadcasting industry back in the late 1920’s.

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February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

By now, To send a man to the moon, we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers. At first very large, very expensive computers, but we see the potential.

What if everyone could have one of these amazing machines in their own house? There’s just one problem: They’re as big as a house


  1. Campbell-Kelly,M., Garci-Swarz,D. (2015).  From Mainframes to Smartphones A History of International Computer Industry Cambridge & London, Harvard University Press
  2. http://www.3480-3590-data-conversion.com/article-mainframe-tape-details.html
  3. http://www.encyclopedia.com/science-and-technology/computers-and-electrical-engineering/computers-and-computing/mainframes

 

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