IBM 360 at Fifty: Controlling Viking, Voyager, NASA Remembers

Written by Gina Smith

The IBM 360 is 50 today. A dual IBM 360 Model 75 installation controlled spacecraft at NASA until 1981. NASA remembers. Here are some cool tech details. — The IBM 360 computer is 50 today. Among its many uses over the decades, the 360 — particularly the IBM 360 Model 75 — is most famous for its long role at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

As employed by the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA JPL, the IBM 360 was the primary computer responsible for tracking, monitoring and otherwise controlling NASA’s Mariner, Viking and Voyager missions.

According to NASA, the control system comprised two identical 360 computers — they could run together or individually — and they were attached to three printers, two keyboards, a punch card reader and 32 CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors. The system 360 Model 75 at NASA had 1MB of RAM on board and about 450MB of hard disk dorage, plus eight tape storage units.

The picture below depicts the day in 1981 when NASA JPL folks — from left, Ron Sharp, Warren Starr, Larry Hughes, Al Balin and Dr. George Anderson — finally shut it down after 10 plus years of operation.

Image of an IBM 360 de-installation at NASA in 1981 after 10 plus years of service:

Read NASA’s historical account of the IBM 360 Model 75 here.


  • The 360 was the first computer I ever saw. That is where my love affair with computers began.

  • I will never forget the day the 360 became available because my Dad told us kids that we were going into the computer business. When we leased one from IBM it started a 50 year adventure. 14 “computer” companies later I owe it all to the day we could employ computer technology (CPU), databases and software to make a living, very cool.