Creare joins the rest of America to salute the Apollo 11 astronauts, the Apollo program, and indeed the entire NASA manned space program, for their momentous achievements. Fifty years ago today (July 20), astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered those now famous words as he became the first human to set foot on the moon, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” An estimated 600 million people watched the event on live TV. The Apollo 11 mission achieved the challenge given by President John F. Kennedy in May 1961 to send an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade.
Some Close Calls
The mission was not without its moments of excitement and suspense. It is well known that the Apollo Lunar Module almost ran out of fuel when landing on the moon, which would have forced an automatic abort and return to the Command Module. When Armstrong discovered that the first landing target was covered in boulders, he took semi-automatic control of the spacecraft. As he and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin searched for a safe landing site, they knew their propellant supply was dwindling fast. Armstrong finally found a clear patch of ground to land on, some four miles from the original landing site. It is estimated that 50 seconds of spare fuel remained.
Perhaps less well known is that a felt-tipped pen saved the mission. In the cramped environment of the Lunar Module, someone had broken off the switch to the circuit breaker that activated the ascent engine. Aldrin later recalled, “I had a felt-tipped pen in the shoulder pocket of my suit that might do the job. After moving the countdown procedure up by a couple of hours in case it didn’t work, I inserted the pen into the small opening where the circuit breaker switch should have been, and pushed it in; sure enough, the circuit breaker held. We were going to get off the moon, after all.”
The legacy of NASA’s moon program lives on today. Innovations include digital flight controls, space blankets, and even advances in food safety: looking to ensure the absolute safety of prepackaged foods for spaceflight, NASA partnered with the Pillsbury Company to create a new, systematic approach to quality control. Other spinoffs from the space program are described here.
Creare is proud to have contributed to numerous NASA projects during our 57 year history. Early projects included flow characterization of conical diffusers and carrying out laser Doppler velocimeter measurements. In the early 1980’s, Creare was funded to develop a reliable long-life cryocooler for space. This groundwork led to Creare’s development of a cryocooler that was installed on the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002. NASA continues to turn to Creare for important work. Our projects today include: development of low-cost cryocooler control electronics for small space platforms, high efficiency cryocoolers for zero boil-off storage of cryogens in earth orbit, and advanced thermal management systems for spacesuits.