An HP brochure from 1974 proclaimed "This man is holding the smallest programmable computer ever".
The HP-65 is the 4th calculator manufactured by Hewlett-Packard, and their first hand-held programmable model. Created in a time when the Vietnam war was still going on, Apollo missions just ended and the USSR was the big red bear everyone feared, this was a true marvel of its day.
The HP-65 was the first HP pocket calculator with base conversions (but only octal and decimal). It was also the first to directly perform degrees.minutes seconds arithmetic (D.MS+ and D.MS-).
HP-65 in space with Apollo-Soyuz
The American astronauts calculated critical course-correction maneuvers on their HP-65 programmable hand-held during the rendezvous of the U.S. and Russian spacecraft.
Twenty-four minutes before the rendezvous in space, when the Apollo and Soyuz were 12 miles apart, the American astronauts corrected their course to place their spacecraft into the same orbit as the Russian craft. Twelve minutes later, they made a second positioning maneuver just prior to braking, and coasted in to linkup.
In both cases, the Apollo astronauts made the course-correction calculations on their HP-65. Had the on-board computer failed, the spacecraft not being in communication with ground stations at the time, the HP-65 would have been the only way to make all the critical calculations. Using complex programs of nearly 1000 steps written by NASA scientists and pre-recorded on magnetic program cards, the astronauts made the calculations automatically, quickly, and with ten-digit accuracy.
The HP-65 also served as a backup for Apollo's on-board computer for two earlier maneuvers. Its answers provided a confidence-boosting double-check on the coelliptic (85 mile) maneuver, and the terminal phase initiation (22 mile) maneuver, which placed Apollo on an intercept trajectory with the Russian craft.
Periodically throughout their joint mission, the Apollo astronauts also used the HP-65 to calculate how to point a high-gain antenna precisely at an orbiting satellite to assure the best possible ground communications.
The first fully programmable hand-held calculator, the HP-65 automatically steps through lengthy or repetitive calculations. This advanced instrument relieves the user of the need to remember and execute the correct sequence of keystrokes, using programs recorded 100 steps at a time on tiny magnetic cards. Each program consists of any combination of the calculator's 51 key-stroke functions with branching, logical comparison, and conditional skip instructions.
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This page was last modified on October 7th, 2008