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Our Journey to replicate the famous Apollo DSKY

S&T Geotronics embarked on a challenging journey in 2015 to create a faithful replica of the Apollo DSKY, the guidance computer used in the Apollo command module and LEM for taking astronauts to the moon. It all began with an email that suggested a Kickstarter project for a working replica, which James and I eagerly took on.

The first phase was research, which proved to be a long and challenging commitment, especially given the limited access to original components. The team initially found a tiny 3D printed version of the Apollo DSKY on Thingiverse and used it to begin building the replica. They then purchased a paper kit from Edu-Craft Diversions that contained dimensions close enough to the real thing to get the necessary measurements.

With the dimensions in hand, we moved on to the second phase: creating a proof of concept. We used Maxim Shift Registers to talk to a bunch of 7 Segments using an Arduino and designed a prototype printed circuit board (PCB). We also laser cut the first top plate version.

The third phase involved component selection, which proved to be quite challenging. We couldn't find anywhere in the world that stocked +/- 3 segment LEDs that were used in the original DSKY. So we decided to create our own 3 segment LED from scratch, which became a separate product on its own.

Finally, in the fourth phase, we put together the market-ready product. The replica DSKY featured 19 buttons, 18 Neopixels, 21 7-segment LEDs, and 3 3-segment +/- LEDs. Additionally, the DSKY contained an Arduino nano, a very accurate Real Time Clock, a Digital Inertial Movement Unit (IMU) to perform Gyro functions, a Global Position Satellite receiver, an MP3 player, and a 16 Ohms speaker. We had to add code to get the peripherals to light up. We used the Neopixel library from Adafruit and the Maxim Shift register library from Arduino. We tested the basic behavior, added GPS serial reading, read the time from the RTC, and found out Gyro values from IMU. The full original DSKY code published on Github gave us a sense of the enormous task ahead.

Despite the challenges and hard work, we are so grateful for the support of our audience, who helped us surpass our crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter. The success of the project was a testament to the team's creativity, expertise, and determination in bringing to life a replica of the iconic guidance computer that took astronauts to the moon.