To the moon: How we built the technologies

Summary:While many of the proud Americans who were involved in the Apollo project are no longer with us 45 years later, the technologies they built live on, will be further refined, and will return us to that lonely world and beyond.

Our commitment to space exploration began with a wake-up call over five decades ago with a beeping sound.

Not with a clock radio, but with a transponder signal that could be tuned into by any ham radio enthusiast — the launching and ever present chirping of the Soviet Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, the first artificial satellite. Shortly after that, the Soviets sent a dog into space aboard Sputnik 2. Several other Sputniks followed, then in 1961 they sent a man, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into orbit aboard Vostok 1

Each of these milestones in space exploration was accompanied by the Soviets proclaiming their technical and moral superiority over the capitalist and imperialist United States, which was fumbling with its own space program and could barely get their own satellite and manned rocket off the ground.

Provocation from the Communists was all we needed to get our collective act in gear, and our President was ready to meet the challenge, even though our country wasn't at the time.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

John F. Kennedy's historic 1962 speech at Rice University which reaffirmed our nation's commitment to space exploration, thumbed our noses at the "Reds," and provoked and stiffened our resolve rings as true and is as moving today as the day he uttered it.

July 20th, 2014 marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, a historic event that was the realization of over two decades of dedicated contributions from hundreds of companies.

The engineering of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space vehicles and supporting systems involved not just large companies, but thousands of smaller subcontractors and hundreds of thousands of technology and aerospace workers.

All of these people worked tirelessly through all-nighters to solve tremendously complicated engineering problems for what many Americans felt was an insurmountable task that needed to be accomplished in less than a decade from when President Kennedy made his historic speech.

Forty-five years after Apollo 11, many of the larger companies that built the support systems and actual space technology no longer exist, or have been absorbed into others.

Most of the key people who led the projects have passed on, or are entering their later years. But remarkably, some of the important firms that made some of the most significant contributions remain, and many of the technologies they built are still in use and will continue to be used as we enter the next era of space exploration.

In a series that I wrote originally in 2009, I profiled the key companies and the projects that made Apollo 11 a reality — the firms that performed the systems integration, built and designed the avionics components, engineered and manufactured the powerful rocket engines that hurtled the mighty Saturn V into space, and created the legendary spacecraft that made history. 

Certain things have changed about our space program in the five years since I wrote those articles, particularly as it relates to our nation's priorities relating to returning to the moon, and not all of it is for the better. However, it doesn't diminish what our country, NASA and over 400,000 people employed by the aerospace industry accomplished nearly half a century ago.

Which companies and individuals do you think made the most significant contributions to the Apollo program? Who needs to be remembered?

Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Innovation, Nasa / Space

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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