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During the Apollo program, checkout tests of launch vehicle and spacecraft systems were gradually being automated, moving away from the manual processes during the early years of the space program to (almost) fully automated tests by the time of Apollo 11.

One interesting problem NASA faced was how to make sure that the computer programmers (who wrote the checkout test computer programs) and the test and design engineers (who defined the checkout test procedures) understood each other:

In the evolution of automatic checkout equipment, one of the most interesting problems centered on the creation of a new language. The language tapes incorporated in the computer programs had to be functional for the designer of the vehicle as well as the test engineer. Readouts on malfunctions had to make sense to persons reworking the piece of hardware that failed or had not performed properly. [...]

Test engineers were putting new demands on the computers, and these new demands as well as the style of language had to be communicated to the programmer. To arrive at an appropriate language, either the test engineer had to learn more about programming, or the programmer had to learn more about test engineering. The solution to this dilemma was ATOLL, an acronym for Acceptance Test or Launch Language, designed to bridge many of the gaps between the test engineer, the designer of the stage, and the computer programmer. Originating in late 1963, ATOLL eased confusion and helped to normalize the many functions of automatic test and checkout encountered at the manufacturer's plant, during static firing, and during operations at the launch site.

(source: Stages to Saturn, chapter 8)

Given the important role ATOLL played in the success of the Saturns, I'm curious to know what it looked like, and how much "high level" it actually was. However, I'm unable to find any information on it. This is the Wikipedia article on ATOLL in its entirety:

Acceptance, Test Or Launch Language (ATOLL) was the programming language used for automating the checking and launch of Saturn rockets.

With one reference:

  1. "SLCC ATOLL User's Manual", IBM 70-F11-0001, Huntsville, Ala. Dec 1970

This report is not available on NTRS, and putting this reference into e.g. Google just yields and endless list of mirrors of Wikipedia (?).

I found one reference to ATOLL in Appendix 3 on GOAL of "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience":

GOAL is a high-level language that uses the terminology of test engineers to write tests and procedures to certify that a Shuttle vehicle is ready for launch. When the first automated preflight checkout programs were written in the mid-1960s, Marshall Space Flight Center originated ATOLL, a special high-level language for use in preparing test procedures. GOAL superseded that language in the early 1970s.

This appendix has a snippet of GOAL code and I'm guessing that GOAL resembles ATOLL, but that is no more than a hunch.

Question: what does ATOLL code look like? Are there listings or a reference manual available?

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  • $\begingroup$ I have not been able to figure out what GOAL is an acronym for. Totally ungoogleable. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Dec 21, 2021 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Some discussion of ATOLL in Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations By Charles D. Benson, William Barnaby Faherty (on Google Books), but no code given there. Also a short blurb in Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology: Volume 18 - Supplement 3 ... edited by Allen Kent, James G. Williams, also Google Books, no code. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 21, 2021 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ GOAL appears to be 'Ground Operations Aerospace Language' - see dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.5555/800124.804003 - this paper has some ATOLL statements to compare with the GOAL equivalent. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 21, 2021 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ Chrome extension NASA Acronyms says GOAL is 'Ground Operations Aerospace Language' or 'Ground Operations and Launch' $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2021 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ GOAL documentation such as ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19740007776/downloads/… seems more available $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 21, 2021 at 22:05

1 Answer 1

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The documentation for the Ground Operations Aerospace Language is much more available - search at ntrs.nasa.gov and a variety of reports come up.

An ACM publication (which apparently is not a journal article, since Web Of Science does not find it - perhaps a conference proceedings not indexed - indeed, from DAC '73: Proceedings of the 10th Design Automation Workshop June 1973, pp 87–96) by Terry R. Mitchell in the Launch Vehicle Checkout Automation and Programming Office at KSC, is titled

A Standard Test Language - GOAL

Ground Operations Aerospace Language

It mainly discusses GOAL, but touches on ATOLL. This includes several figures with comparisons between GOAL and ATOLL to do the same thing. This is done in Figure 3, shown here:

enter image description here

Further search has found an article in the April 1965 issue of Datamation (pages 33-35) which appears to lay out the language op codes completely, separated into Stimulation, Response, Control, and Utility commands. For example, Table 1 (Simulation Operators) looks like:

enter image description here

As an aside, the June 1965 issue (the 196506.pdf from the bitsavers archive) has a letter from B.L Ryle with some credits to various folks for the development of ATOLL.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that Datamation is amazing to look through. Thanks for posting the link. The source article is a great find, but the ads and such are incredible. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2021 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ That Datamation issue is amazing. How/where did you find it? $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Dec 22, 2021 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Ludo - since Web of Science did not index the Mitchell paper, I went to ACM.org and did a search for 'ATOLL'. That search brought up a paper on another acceptance testing language which referenced the Datamation article, fortunately including the title in the reference for their search engine to find. Searching for a Datamation archive lead to the bitsavers site, and ultimately to the issue - I found a link to the June issue, and fortunately bitsavers has a straightforward URL format so when I changed 196506 in the original link to 196504 up popped April... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 22, 2021 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble "Speeds up to 333 characters per second" (ad on page 18). Wow! Blazing! The computer world sure has come a long, long way since 1965. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2021 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble - oh, it is a look back to the Mad Men area, that is for sure. Cringe-worthy in oh so many ways. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 22, 2021 at 21:48

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