In perhaps the boldest presidential decree of the 20th century, John F. Kennedy said before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Eight years later and only 66 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made history with the first airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Apollo 11, launched by a Saturn V rocket, took off from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Apollo Lunar Module, Eagle, landed on the moon four days later, fulfilling Kennedy’s vision.
These days, we greet the latest technological advances with mild enthusiasm. For the Apollo 11 mission, even though the spacecraft represented a marvel of technology unmatched around the world, it’s surprising how much of what the astronauts relied on was elementary.
The astronauts used paper star charts to cross-check their computer navigation. The software for their computer was stitched together by hand, with women using a specialized loom, using wire instead of thread. Only three people were licensed to pack Apollo 11 parachutes, and NASA forbade the three from traveling by car together so they’d avoid injury in a single accident. The heat shields were applied manually with a caulking gun.
So while we grumble when our smartphone navigation app misses the location by 1/16 of a mile, it’s worth remembering that 50 years ago, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon using a good deal of handmade technology.