Apollo 11 Impact On Technology – From building the most powerful rocket in the world, to developing computer memory, to designing the first aircraft that can only operate in space, the Apollo mission was a tsunami of ingenuity.
The ascent stage of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, photographed from the Command and Service Module in lunar orbit in this July 1969 photo. (NASA/Handout via Reuters)
Apollo 11 Impact On Technology
This story is part of Moon Landing: 50th Anniversary, a series from The News that examines how far we’ve come since the first man landed on the moon.
Neil Armstrong: First Man On The Moon
It has about 1.5 percent of the computing power of a mobile phone, but the giant Saturn V – still the most powerful rocket in the world – is powerful enough to usher in the dawn of the new space age.
On July 20, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon. But few may realize how much talent is needed for that historic journey.
Today, scientists building rockets have the advantage of having built most of the groundwork for them over the past 60 years.
When the U.S. President John F. Kennedy made his historic statement, “We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because it was easy, but because it was hard,” many key technologies in space did not exist.
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NASA launched the first US astronaut. to space with his Mercury program, but getting a rocket strong enough not only to escape Earth’s gravity, but to propel the spacecraft more than 384,000 kilometers, will require some innovative thinking.
“The amazing thing is that there is nothing. Every thing has to be built from scratch with specifications,” said Erin Gregory, assistant curator at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. “The Saturn V rocket was one of the most underappreciated aspects – I think – of the Apollo program, given the amount of time and effort that had to go into making this mammoth rocket.”
While the rocket needed to launch two astronauts into orbit around the Earth in the Gemini program – which ran from 1961 to 1966 – used about 500,000 pounds of thrust, the Saturn V will need much, much more than that: 7.5 million pounds.
Once engineers figured out how to escape Earth’s gravity to land astronauts on the moon, they had to tackle computer problems. For a moon mission, much more computing power is required compared to a “simple” Earth orbit.
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At that time, computers were big – they took up the wings of the building, if not the entire building. Obviously, that won’t do for rockets.
Chris Gainor, an Apollo historian and president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, said the software was still small, like semi-conductors and computer chips that, until Apollo, didn’t have much of a market.
“The thing that has changed over 50 years is computing technology,” he said. “It’s actually one of the less-told stories about Apollo… They are these blind computers that fill the whole building with less oomph than this phone I’m talking to.”
“The hardwired memory should be established early in the flight, because there was a large group of women who had to knit. They had to literally weave this wire in several ways.”
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When IBM computers were introduced to NASA, human “computers”, such as the now famous Katherine Johnson profiled in books and movies.
“Technology is the human brain,” says David Warmflash, science journalist, physician and author of Moon: An Illustrated History. “This uses the human brain to a greater extent than we probably have today, because everything is so high-powered today that we cannot imagine doing everything we can without the computing power we have.”
“[The lunar module] is the world’s first real spacecraft,” Gainor said. “The only place where the lunar module can be used is in space. The shuttle, the command module, Gemini, Mercury, they are designed to get you back to Earth. For the lunar module … if the engine does not work. the morning after the moonwalk, it will be bad day”.
Aside from the computing power needed to return both Armstrong and Aldrin safely to the command module, there is the problem of the construction of the LM itself, which needs to be as light as possible while also being safe.
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One of the things people notice about the LM is the foil-like cover it uses. It shields not only solar radiation but also micrometeoroids, tiny space debris left over from the formation of our solar system.
“They could have made a hole in it. But of course they tried to get the hell out of it with astronauts who are trained very well,” said Gainor. “When you know your life depends on it, you don’t put your fist on the bulkhead. You’re more careful. But yeah, that flight is really dangerous.”
When the Apollo program was announced, NASA needed the best minds, especially those familiar with the latest technology that promised to change the world: the computer.
Amy Shira Teitel, a space historian originally from Toronto who now lives in California, said that perhaps one of the most remarkable facts about the Apollo missions was how young everyone was.
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“I think the average age in mission control is something like 26,” Teitel said. “They are very young. The flight director is an old military man. But they have a young engineer who – his whole life, his whole professional career – is like ‘Oh you want to go to the moon? I’m 20 and know. I. how computers work, which is something new. This is my life now.'”
Based in Toronto, Nicole covers all things science for the News. As a budding astronomer, Nicole can be seen looking at the night sky appreciating the wonders of our universe. He is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books. In 2021, he won the Kavli Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for the audio special Quirks and Quarks about the history and future of Black people in science. You can send your story ideas to Nicole.Mortillaro@.Apollo Technology Made Our Lives Better The Apollo project led to a technological revolution – everything from advances in food packaging to computers. Fifty years later, we are still reaping the rewards.
The US government spent about $26 billion (about $260 billion in today’s dollars, according to one estimate) between 1960 and 1972 to hire contractors and subcontractors who employed hundreds of thousands of people to create and improve the technology that led us to the moon and the moon.
While some of that technology remains in the space industry, much more is flowing into society. There is a big list of things. NASA has a whole department dedicated to cataloging everything.
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Roast beef, lobster bisque, peach ambrosia – all things that, if you were an Apollo astronaut, you could eat out of a plastic bag while speeding away from Earth at 5,000 miles per hour.
Freeze-dried food was perfect for the weight-conscious Apollo missions, where the spacecraft had to stay lean enough to reach the moon and back even though the astronauts consumed a hearty 2,800 calories per day to maintain themselves.
Favorite? Shrimp cocktail, according to Charles Bourland, a food scientist who first worked on the Apollo program in 1969.
“It has a little bit of spice, and the shrimp is really hydrating. It’s like having fresh shrimp with cocktail sauce,” he said.
Walking On The Moon
Mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka takes a meal break in the center deck of space shuttle Discovery during the STS 51-C mission in the 1980s. NA hide caption
Mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka takes a meal break in the center deck of space shuttle Discovery during the STS 51-C mission in the 1980s.
In the Apollo mission, the defecation system was little more than a bag with a small hole and some glue on the side. It’s not very interesting that astronauts can take 45 minutes to complete the process and there is a possibility that, um, waste material can escape and contaminate other parts of the cabin.
“Astronauts don’t want to go to the bathroom more than they have to,” Bourland said. “I always say that the space toilet is the biggest improvement in the food system.”
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Freeze-dried food was not created specifically for Apollo, but the number of varieties, texture, taste and presentation all changed because of it. Fruit cocktails, for example, need to be reformulated so they don’t collapse when sealed in a vacuum bag.
Astronauts James H. Newman (left) and Michael J. Massimino wear liquid cooling and ventilation suits that complement the spacesuit during the 2002 mission. Also pictured on the space shuttle Columbia
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