Personable robots, advanced prosthetics and entrepreneurship figure prominently in campus visit.
MIT hackers honored the 30th anniverary of the famed Apollo mission with a little moon landing of their own. On July 20, as dawn's early light broke over Building 7, passersby could see a life-sized astronaut holding an American flag atop the Lobby 7 dome.
The figure, clearly a double for astronaut Neil "Giant Step" Armstrong, wore the signature NASA puffy spacesuit. A space shuttle badge on one bicep read "Hacko Ergo Sum." A chest-pocket ID strip read "Tetazoo." One arm grasped the flag pole, which sat in a cube of cement.
"Neil" was made of garbage bags stuffed with newspapers, his balloon head covered with tin foil to achieve an inscrutable machismo. With "pool noodles" for arms, ski boots for feet and a bicycle helmet to shape his skull, the fabricated astronaut "ranked about a six on the hack scale. He was a timely hack, a special event hack," said David M. Barber, assistant safety and environmental officer in the Safety Office.
Mr. Barber and Gary Cunha, a glazier from Facilities, comprise MIT's hack evaluation and removal team. Their most recent team task was restoring the Building 10 dome to its normal state after hackers calling themselves "Rebel Scum" transformed the dome into a gigantic R2D2 to honor the opening of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
By the time Mr. Barber and Mr. Cunha had reached "Neil," around 9am, his mission had slid off-course, the men said.
"Originally, 'Neil' was standing up, but by the time we reached him he was in a break-dancing/limbo position," said Mr. Barber. "It was a safety issue. We didn't want him sliding off the surface of the 'moon' and onto someone below."
Mr. Cunha said that painters on the midnight-to-seven shift had called in the Apollo hack.
"One of the painters saw a group of kids carrying 'Neil,' the flag and the cement block. When he asked, 'Where are you going with that?' the hacksters answered, 'We can't tell you!' It sounded suspicious," said Mr. Cunha.
Mr. Barber and Mr. Cunha drove "Neil Armstrong With Flag" in a response vehicle to the MIT Museum, where he was prominently displayed at the second-floor entrance and is now installed in the Museum's Hall of Hacks.
A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 44, Number 2).