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 Program40 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"