A SAGE Defense

SAGE weapons director console with light gun

This user console showed all activity in the air space assigned to it. Operators could request information about objects that appeared and use the light gun to assign identification numbers to displayed aircraft.

A SAGE Defense

Fear of nuclear-armed Soviet bombers terrified 1950s America. SAGE, a massive real-time control and communications system developed for the Air Force by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, offered a solution.

SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) linked 23 sites across the U.S. and Canada, coordinating weapons systems and processing radar, weather reports and other data. By the time it became fully operational in 1963, however, the principal threat had shifted from aircraft to missiles, making SAGE’s value questionable. Nevertheless, some sites remained in service until 1982.

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SAGE Maintenance Console, Logic Unit and Intercept Technician Console

Each SAGE installation had two AN/FSQ-7 computers to provide redundancy. The Maintenance Consoles coordinated switching between the two computers, and also controlled the magnetic tape and punched cards.

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SAGE Core Memory Array

SAGE’s core memory design was based on work done at MIT for Whirlwind. IBM, as the main contractor, gained core memory expertise that helped with its commercial computers.

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Watching & Waiting

Hundreds of people used SAGE simultaneously, interacting through groundbreaking graphical consoles. Ever on the alert for a Soviet attack, SAGE operators described the experiences as endless hours of boredom…broken by seconds of sheer terror.

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SAGE console filler knobs with handwriting

Phrases such as “Don’t you feel useless” or “I can’t stand it” were found handwritten in pencil on the back of filler knobs that covered unused button positions on user consoles.

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AN/FSQ-7 SAGE situation display console

Capt. Charbonneau sits in front of SAGE’s situation display console at the Lincoln Labs’ Experimental Direction Center, where SAGE testing took place.

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