Meet Mike Stewart, a Capella flight software engineer who is restoring a historic Apollo computer

We have an incredible team at Capella, and many of our colleagues have interesting passions outside of their day to day work. Periodically, we host Lunch & Learn sessions so our employees can share these interests with the rest of the team. These sessions keep us thinking outside the box and enable us to get to know each other better. 

During one of our Lunch & Learn sessions, Mike Stewart, a flight software engineer on our team, taught us about one of his side projects: restoring a historic Apollo guidance computer. It’s been a fascinating project, and Mike kindly agreed to let us share his story on our blog.

Mike and the rest of the AGC computer restoration team. From left to right: Mike Stewart, Carl Claunch, Ken Shirriff, and Marc Verdiell.

Working with three members of the restoration team at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, Mike set a goal: to restore the computer by the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2019. To meet that deadline, Mike and his team worked around the clock. He said the project essentially became a full-time second job. 

Some of the computer’s parts were easy to track down, like a diode he and the team were able to buy for $0.19 at a local electronics store. Others proved to be more tricky — the original connectors, for example, hadn’t been produced since the early 1970s. To overcome this obstacle, Mike and his team shared the original NASA connector drawings with a custom connector company. Luckily, the company was able to create the part they needed.

A photo Mike took while working on the Apollo Guidance Computer.

In his day-to-day work at Capella, Mike primarily focuses on software engineering. So to restore the Apollo guidance computer — a project that required a lot of hardware engineering — Mike had to pick up some new skills. For example, he learned how to configure a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). This skill comes in handy at Capella, adding to Mike’s engineering knowledge and experiences.  

We love that Mike’s passion for restoring this Apollo computer taught him skills that he could use at work — he was an integral part of our first satellite launch, and his familiarity with FPGAs is critical. You can learn more about his project here. At Capella, we always enjoy learning about what our employees are working on outside of the office, so stay tuned for future blog posts featuring other team members and their passions outside of work!