Apollo 11 – Are We Celebrating The Right Achievement?

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing reminds us of the magnitude of that achievement – heightened with the passage of time and the recognition that the next human landing on the Moon is probably a decade or more away. The many TV programs, newspaper articles and even movies on the Apollo anniversary have celebrated the people who were the public face of Apollo, but is the focus of the celebration misplaced? I am reminded of older technical achievements that continue to impress. The European gothic cathedrals, for example, still inspire awe – Paris Notre Dame,
, etc. Each was initiated by a powerful or rich patron – a prince, bishop or abbot perhaps. Each was used for important ceremonies, on the occasion of key church or state events such as coronations, weddings or funerals. Each major event in the cathedral was focused on a celebrant assisted by a small army of acolytes who directed and informed the public and assisted the celebrant to use the facilities of the cathedral. But as we look back, it is not the sponsor or the users of the infrastructure (the celebrants and the acolytes) that impress us the most – it is the designers and builders of the magnificent infrastructure. We rarely know their names, nor have a clear picture of their tools, technologies and techniques. There is much debate among historians on these topics.

The Apollo program created a magnificent infrastructure – the Saturn 5s, the Lunar Modules, the facilities at
Cape Kennedy
, and
, etc. The focus of the 40th anniversary has mainly been the sponsor, primarily President John F. Kennedy, and the users of the infrastructure – the celebrants; that is to say the astronauts and the acolytes, especially the operations staff in launch and mission control. Time has proven the superb quality of the design of the Apollo infrastructure. Posterity will surely want to know the names of the individuals who designed, built and tested it, and the techniques, tools and technologies they used.

We should therefore be grateful to those industrious few who have documented the engineering side of Apollo – both physical and human. These include the creators of audio-visual material such as the Moon Machines TV series and the authors of books such as “How Apollo Flew to the Moon” and the “Apollo 11 Owners’ Workshop Manual.” More emphasis should be placed on continuing this work, especially as the community of Apollo engineers and managers is rapidly diminishing as time takes its inevitable toll.

Pat Norris

Member, Apollo Navigation Team at TRW, 1967-1970

United Kingdom