To the Moon: How we built the technologies

To the Moon: How we built the technologies

Summary: The historic Apollo 11 mission in July of 1969 culminated in the first manned moon landing. While many of the proud Americans who were involved in that project are no longer with us 40 years later, the technologies they built still live on, will be further refined, and will return us to that lonely world and beyond.

TOPICS: Networking

The historic Apollo 11 mission in July of 1969 culminated in the first manned moon landing. While many of the proud Americans who were involved in that project are no longer with us 40 years later, the technologies they built still 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 in 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, the Soviets followed with a dog, Laika, aboard Sputnik 2 and several follow on Sputniks, and then sent a man into orbit, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, aboard Vostok 1 in 1961.

Each of these important 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 re-affirmed our nation's commitment to space exploration and thumbed our noses at the "Reds" which provoked and stiffened our resolve rings as true and as moving today as the day he uttered it.

July 20th, 2009 will mark the 40th 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 tireless all-nighter hours to solve tremendously complicated engineering problems for what many Americans felt was an insurmountable task which needed to be accomplished in less than a decade from when President Kennedy made his historic speech.

Gallery: Kennedy Space Center

Gallery: Boeing/Saturn V

Gallery: IBM and UNIVAC in the Apollo Program

40 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 in life. But remarkably, some of the important firms which gave some of the most significant contributions still 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.

Over the next several weeks up to and after the 40th anniversary, I am going to profile the key companies and the projects which made Apollo 11 a reality -- from the firms that performed the systems integration, built and designed the avionics components, engineered and manufactured the powerful rocket engines which hurtled the mighty Saturn V into space, and created the legendary spacecraft which made history.

It should be a heck of a ride.

Read all Parts of "To the Moon"

Boeing: The Rocket Foundry

IBM and Univac: The Integrators

Rocketdyne: Keeper of the Flame

Grumman: One Giant Landing for Mankind

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.

Topic: Networking


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Westinghouse

    Westinghouse over came a ton of problems to build a video camera that met the power and weight restrictions NASA placed on them.

    At the time, most inviloved with the program pretty much thought of the camera as a nicity but wasn't all that important. Little did anyone understand how those crude images would change the entire world.
    • Westinghouse in name only.

      Toshiba now owns what is left of Westinghouse.
    • How Apollo project crashed Dollar in 1971

      Dollar was supposed to be backed by gold. 1 ounce gold = 35 dollars, which was the deal USA stroke w/ the rest of the world and made Dollar the world reserved currency after World War II.

      But then Lyndon Johnson got too complacent. He wanted it all so he had a "guns & butter" madness of Vietnam war, Apollo project and Great Society. 3 money sucking black holes were happening at the same time during his presidency.

      To finance the massive bill, Federal Reserve printed a lot of money and the rest of the world started to worry about the Dollar's soundness. At first, US government denied there's any problem w/ Dollar. Foreign nations didn't buy that and started exchange their Dollar for gold, "Since you said there's no problem, great, here's 35 Dollars and give me back 1 ounce gold please. I'll keep the gold and you'll keep the note."

      Quickly things got out of control and turned into a run on the US gold. Finally in 1971 Nixon had to step in and shut the Dollar to gold window, "Ok, Ok, Ok. You guys have caught us cheating, fine, but guess what? I'm gonna default on that 1 to 35 thing and shut the gold window. You guys don't like it? Bite me then." Started from 1971, Dollar turned into a fiat currency disaster that was destined to collapse.

      It seems Americans in general don't care about history, which makes them prone to repeating past mistakes. And sure enough, here we go w/ G W Bush whose Iraq war plus real estate debacle looked awfully similar to Lyndon Johnson's "Guns and Butter". And now we have Obama whose class warrior policies make you wanna say "Jimmy Carter 2.0" The entire 1970s were in a recession plus inflation as the result, and the 2010s appear to head the same direction.

      The writings are on the wall for 2010s, and it says "depression + hyperinflation banana republic". Fasten your seat belt folks, gonna be a hell of ride.
      • Dollar Crash in 1971 - Fiat currency paralleled today

        Couldn't agree more. Does anyone even remember the term "stagflation"? The hallmark of the Jimmy Carter incompetence years? Jimmy, by the way, has spent the rest of his life traipsing the globe trying to divert attention away from his failed presidency.

        Stagflation = stagnant economy with no growth + inflation out of control

        A bitter pill and everyone better get used to the taste. Jimmy Carter's folly will look like genius by the time the Obamanauts finish their run - spending like drunken sailors, borrowing from the Chinese, hiking taxes, multiplying government regulation, getting government as far into your lost privacy as possible to create a "nanny state" that will make the "Great Society" look like a piker's dream.

        Is this the CHANGE you voted for???

        Like Willie Brown (former Mayor of San Francisco), the lifelong politician said, "No one wanted to know what Obama's policies would be - so they didn't ask him during the campaign!"

        So it is no surprise that he has hired all the Clintonite retreads and staffed the White House with lobbyists.
  • Misunderstanding history

    The space race was about a clash of civilizations. Would
    the world embrace freedom or would it fall to
    totalitarianism? You see, capitalism is based in the most
    fundamental freedom: the freedom to risk, while
    communism, and it's stepson, socialism, promises safety.

    We won't be going back to the moon because 53% of
    Americans gladly and joyously sold their freedom for
    security, and a mindset that wants to be safe above all else
    does not have the moral strength or courage to dare great
    • Wasn't it Jefferson who said:

      "Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither?"

      That's not a slam against either party... I refuse to play the Democrat vs. Republican game... they're all crooks.
      • Five years I would have disagreed with you

        but not today.

        What I find totally hilarious is that JFK would be excoriated today as a
        right-wing nut. He was a hard-line cold warrior, soviet
        confrontationalist and aggressive tax-cutter.
        • How hard line did Kennedy have to be to ...

          ..decide that nuclear bombs ready to launch from Cuba was a very bad idea. GET REAL. Kennedy wasn't a hardliner anything, he was presented with an incredibly nasty set of circumstances in a far different time and he took the sane route, the only smart route. That in itself has nothing to do with being hardline, just the logical sensible approach.
      • Franklin

        "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - B. Franklin, 1775

        As for paying for social programs to deal with poverty, rather than investing in technological industry which has created the **common** labor-saving, luxuries of the last two centuries, recall the words of the Rabbi Joshua ben Joseph: "You shall always have the poor with you."

        JJ Brannon
    • Misunderstanding history

      We no longer have the technology to go back to the moon. The
      and organizations that had the technology were laid off, discarded,
      retired in favor of the money counters and the banksters that
      "maximized shareholder value".

      Since we now live in a fascist state, the will no longer exists. I was in
      second year of engineering school when Sputnik 1 was launched and
      country has gone downhill dramatically in the 52 years since then.

      Anyone that thinks this country is more technically competent now
      in 1957 just does not know history.

      We might be able to purchase the equipment from the peoples
      • Your time markers place you

        as older than I, but I would place the problem with the effect of the Vietnam War, Nixon's economic cuts (especially the space program and science projects in general), and Watergate.

        I wonder what you must have imagined would be accomplished when we quickly recovered from the embarrassment of Sputnik, and within 4 years had the Mercury program.

        I know that I thought in 2009, we would have a colony on the moon, and men would have walked on Mars.
    • Your view is far to simplistic.

      Sorry, I was a young man at the time and I can tell you that you are seeing one tiny piece of it.
      • The nice thing about history

        is that it tends to eliminate the cruft and distill out the salient points.
        The space race was very much about the Cold War, and the Cold War was
        very much about Soviet Aggression.
    • Re: Misunderstanding History

      There are many stops on the way from risk to security. Perhaps our country just want to choose where on that line it stands. And some people desire complete safety on some issues and go for complete risk on others. And I don't see where moral strength or courage enters into it. It take those things to hold any strongly felt stand anywhere on that line. Nothing is that simplistic.
    • Not quite. Talent plays a part too.

      We went to the moon because our German scientists were better than the Soviet's. And the guy who took us to the moon was in charge of Peenumunde. He came from a society that had no freedom whatsoever. He went further in his career due to the fact of a freer society.

      Frgough you got to quit quoting Ann Rand and her free society ideals. A free society also has to operate under rules so all can participate. In actuality, 53% wanted the referees back to make the game fair. No one has a right to succeed but a right to pursue it. Must be sad to have a doom outlook on life because your party lost.
      • German Scientists

        Actually, I'd have to say theirs were just as good as ours. Our priorities were set for the moon for a bunch of different reasons. Von Braun was a genius but he had many peers that went to Russia that were just as smart as he was. Von Braun was an excellent administrator and knew how to play politics, which probably gave us a huge advantage when he went to NASA. He fit right in.

        The Russians/Soviets still hold huge records for manned spaceflight in terms of endurance and their rocket technology is fantastic, especially if you research into closed system rocket engines which the Russians pioneered. Their boosters are as the most well-heeled in existence and we learned a lot from them. We will probably be depending on them heavily until our own Ares and Orion systems are functional when the Shuttles are decommissioned.

        The problem was that the Soviet economic model was not geared towards an effort like Apollo which required huge investment and coordination from private industry and a military industrial complex which could only exist under capitalism. There is no way the Russians could have accomplished it under a state-run economy.

        I will say, however, that the Soviets made a lot of progress because their value on life and safety protocols was far below that of ours, which allowed them to make progress on their launch systems much faster than ours. When we had major accidents such as with Apollo 1 and the Shuttles we had congressional hearings that grounded us for years. The Russians and Soviets just sweep it under the rug and move on. Many cosmonauts died in the name of the motherland who we'll never know about.
        • They didn't return home until years later.

          But it is noted that the west got the better talent. It is documented that all of the personnel and equipment were evacuated from Peenemunde and Nordhausen. Plus working under protest is not as good as free exchange.

          As for rocket durability the Russians are good but they had launch disintegration on a regular basis especially in Kazakhstan. One report years later stated that most of the scientist died at the facility. They detonated regularly in the 50s.

          Our durability took a dive the minute we got complicated. Saturn V was a reliable system and the Shuttle series started worrying about reentry. This variable made the whole thing fragile. The funny thing is this was suppose to save money buy reusing it over and over like a pickup truck you can just refuel and reload.

          I believe our rocket tech is just as good as the Russians. We just have to persuade the free market types to invest in it over the long haul. It is funny how these free market bugs praise their virtue but will not take the risk unless a huge project is backed by the federal government and then send in gouging bids in appreciation. I think that the space program will always be public project.
          • Do not underestimate

            The talent of Russia's own Jewish rocket scientists. They already had a lot they were working on when the Germans came and joined them, and they ended up carrying on their work under very adverse conditions considering they were a persecuted ethnicity in the Soviet Union. A lot of those people ended up in Israel and at NASA during the fall of the Soviet Union. That they were able to do what they could do under those conditions is mind boggling.

            The Apollo technology is fantastic, which is why we are largely returning to it. That the Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne J2 is going to be used heavily in Ares (along with the Shuttle RS-68 that evolved from Apollo which although married to a complex system in the Shuttle is an excellent engine in and of itself) is a testament to how well engineered that system was.
          • I didn't that much.

            Russians always cover up their failures. It is on the history channel. That is why I don't think their motors are any better. Rocketdyne is better than anything in the Russian arsenal.

            If you read the history of their rocket program, a lot of explosions happened at Kazakhstan. I don't mean a rocket goes up and then crashes to earth, (they had them too). We had ours until Rocketdyne was the contractor. I am talking total annihilation of the facility.


            Yes I think the shuttle was built on prestige purposes instead of practical. I think returning to simple will be better than purchasing rockets from Russia.
        • Many cosmonauts died ... we'll never know about

          If we will never know about them how do we know it happened? Or maybe it is all conjecture?