Nova Laser Computer Control Room, 1985.
At the Nova laser, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, four identical operator consoles interchanged information with the laser’s four subsystems – power conditioning, laser alignment, beam diagnostics and target diagnostics, to precisely control and monitor this complex, electro-optical system. What was at the time the world’s largest and most powerful laser, Nova consisted of hundreds of moveable mirrors, motors, cameras, and mechanical devices which had to be precisely controlled and monitored. Approximately 50 Digital Equipment Corporation LSI-11/23 microcomputers and five VAX 11/780 computers made up the control system. The 50 micros, called front-end processors (FEP), were the system’s chief building blocks. They were connected to nearly 5,000 control devices and sensors. Nova’s control system had four subsystems that corresponded to the four major areas of the laser and a central control system to tie it all together. 1) The power conditioning system regulated the hardware that fired 150 disk amplifiers, 22 rod amplifiers and 42 Faraday rotators in the 10-arm Nova laser. 2) The laser alignment system steered the 10 Nova laser beams along their 250-meter paths. 3) The beam diagnostics system characterized each of the 10 laser chains at key locations measuring beam energy, pulse shape and timing, and positioning of the KDP frequency conversion crystals. 4) The target diagnostics system recorded signals from a wide variety of instruments. This system was flexible enough to accommodate different target designs and changing diagnostic needs. The first Tron movie used the Nova laser for its location shots.