Hand’s up who remembers 21st July 1969? Did your parents wake you up, in what felt like the middle of the night, to watch on a small black and white TV screen the moment that Neil Armstrong, leader of the Apollo 11 mission, stepped out of the Lunar Module (‘Eagle’) to became the first person to walk onto the lunar surface? There are a handful of childhood events, including this momentous step, that this viewer, as an eleven year old, remembers with absolute awe and clarity.
The enormity of men being shot into space ahead a giant fuel canister to orbit the Earth and then be pointed in a different trajectory to the Moon’s orbit and surface, there to land safely, open the sealed hatch and climb out. Simply breathtaking both in its spirit and execution. The First Walk on the Moon was simply awe inspiring.
Armstrong was followed onto the Moon’s surface by his co-venturers, Buzz Aldrin. They spent a couple of hours making auspicious speeches and collecting rocks. After nearly a day in the Sea of Tranquility they blasted back to the command module (‘Columbia’) piloted by Michael Collins. They were returned to terra firma having safely splashed down in the Pacific on 24th July 1969.
I was certainly old enough to realize that the Mission to the Moon was the most magical blend of evolutionary technology of semi-conductors and computers, the guile of America’s military aviators, the obviously immense resources of the NASA Space Program. It was also the culmination of the dream of a brilliant and driven leader, the late President John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 launched his country’s aim to land a man safely on the Moon before the end of the decade.
Aside from the warm and fuzzy feeling of all things vintage and American, Coke fridges, leather sleeved varsity jackets, Levi’s and classic muscle cars what else can be seen as the legacy of man’s early musings with space travel?
The Apollo mission kick-started a series of major innovations the legacy of which continue to be seen, felt and enjoyed today. Some of the many spin-offs from the Space Race include the following:
The Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scanner now more regularly used to detect cancer and other abnormalities was used to identify any imperfections in space components that would only be magnified by the unique stresses and environmental issues associated with zero gravity and the g-force associated with space travel.
The Computer Microchip, the integrated circuits and semi-conductors used in the Apollo mission’s guidance software spawned the modern microchip that appears in everything from you laptop, to you TV remote control and your oven’s regulatory systems.
Cordless tools. Lacking the inability to plug in electrical tools on the Moon’s surface, power tools including cordless drills and vacuum cleaners were developed – initially by Black & Decker in 1961 – with integral battery packs enabling the collection of rock and dust samples.
In-Ear Infrared thermometer. A detector of infrared energy that is felt as heat that was developed to monitor the birth of stars found an alternative use with In-Ear thermometers.
Freeze-dried food. Since the Moon mission we have been fascinated by rehydrated food, Thai pot soups, noodle dishes and the like. Originally devised to minimize weight these packets of goodness fueled the men in space. This technology had first been developed in the Second World War for carrying blood long distances without refrigeration. Nasa was first to create freeze dried iced cream – but it doesn’t seem to have been that popular amongst the astronauts.
Home Insulation materials. If you have ever unrolled in the your attic reflective insulated matting you may not know that the shiny material used was developed to deflect radiation away from spacecrafts.
Invisible braces. Each of my three children has received the attention of the dentists and the application of braces that resulted in perfectly straight teeth. The process has been improved by the use of transparent ceramic brace brackets made from materials developed for spacecraft.
Joysticks as used on computer gaming consoles were devised for Apollo Lunar Rover.
Memory foam – for many, me excluded, they say that sleeping on a memory foam mattress or pillow results in a splendid night’s sleep. For me they are usually too firm but the underlying tech was created to improve the comfort of aircraft seats and helmets.
You may not be surprised to hear that satellite television technology, primarily devised to repair relay signals from spacecrafts and to unscramble satellite sound and images sent from space now sits at the core of home satellite driven services.
At the optician when ordering a new pair of glasses you will almost certainly have been asked if you would like a ‘scratch resistant coating’ to be added. Substantially improving the long term wear and tear on glasses these coatings were developed to make astronaut helmet visors scratch resistant.
Whilst shoe insoles have been around for years, indeed the likes of trusty beach worn Birkenstocks are based on the eponymous insole a challenge for athletic shoe companies was to adapt an insole for the Space missions boot designs to maximize on ventilation and springy comfort.
An absolute must around any home is a smoke detector with good batteries. It may surprise you to know that Nasa invented the first adjustable smoke detector that was programmed with a level of sensitivity that prevented false alarms. Just as essential in the small cabins on board spacecrafts.
The design of a space rocket is perhaps a classic example of drag reduction. Interestingly Nasa deployed the same principles of drag reduction to help create for Speedo a world beating, but highly controversial, swimsuit the LZR Racer.
Aside from bottled oxygen, filtered and clean water was one of vital elements needed in space. NASA developed a filtering technique that killed bacteria in water. This has subsequently been used to deliver filtered water in millions of homes.
Velcro – whilst not strictly a product developed for the Space Race, the system of a hook-and-loop fastener was originally conceived in 1941 by a Swiss engineer George de Mestral. NASA made significant use of touch fasteners in myriad of ways including the closing of astronauts’ suits, anchoring equipment during maintained and for trays at mealtimes to avoid them floating away.
Artificial limbs – Nasa is a world leader in the science of robotics devised primarily to remotely control space vehicles. The technology had been adopted to give artificial limbs greater functionality.
If you have ever completed the London Marathon, for example, you may recall crossing the line to be shrouded in a silver foil blanket. These blankets were developed in 1964 they are excellent at reflecting infrared radiation but they also enable the body to they retain heat and reduce the risks from hypothermia.
The Bacon hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell celebrated British engineer, Tom Bacon, developed an existing and century old technology to create a patented fuel cell that provided electrical power for the Apollo mission. The science that combined hydrogen and oxygen to create a reaction that caused heat that could be converted to electricity also had a useful by-product, water: which the astronauts drank. Fuel cells have been used to create electric vehicles including the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, where the technology is seen as a having great green credentials.
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is part of a range of manually winded chronometers launched by the Swiss watch brand in 1957 and used as part of Omega’s role as the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games. The “Moonwatch”, a combination of both timepiece and stopwatch, was water-resistant, shock-proof, and could withstand 12Gs of acceleration endured by the astronauts during their mission. It was first worn during NASA’s Gemini missions that included the first space walk. The Moonwatch was on the wrists of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, when the former two took their first steps on the Moon. It remains a firm favourite with those who love this Swiss watch brand which has created a series of Special Editions to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first Moon landing.
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