How could they get to the Moon with 1960s technology?
A common source of doubt about NASA's Moon landings is the level of technology available at the time. Many people believe that the technology simply didn't exist to get people to the Moon in 1969.
Interestingly, people who are old enough to remember the technology of the 1960s don't tend to think like this. They know that the technology of the time was adequate, because they remember it. It's worth noting that throughout the 1960s, NASA's technology developments were regularly in the news. There was a lot of public interest in how the rockets were being developed. There were hundreds of books, newspaper articles, documentaries and other reports that talked in extreme detail about how every part of the program was progressing. From the guidance systems to the types of cameras they used, everything was open to public scrutiny. If there was anything about the Moon missions that seemed impossible, thousands of engineers around the world would have spotted it immediately.
What technology did they need?
Let's think about exactly what technology we're talking about. The important things you need to get people to the Moon and back are:
- A spacecraft to take astronauts to the Moon. It must include life support systems to keep the astronauts alive in a vacuum.
- A rocket powerful enough to send the spacecraft all the way to the Moon.
- A vehicle that can land on the Moon and take off again.
- Spacesuits to allow astronauts to walk around on the Moon.
- Accurate guidance and control systems for the rocket, spacecraft and lander.
- A way to return safely to Earth.
The diagram below is from the NASA Saturn V Flight Manual, published in the 1960s. This is the rocket system that sent people to the Moon. You can download the entire manual and other related documents here. You will find information about every single component, and explanations for how everything needed to get to the Moon was accomplished. You will not find any technology that wasn't available in the 1960s.
The history of rocket technology
Rocket technology is older than most people realize. Here are a few historical examples for context:
- The first known rockets date back to the 13th Century, when the Chinese military used them as missiles.
- The first credible account of a person flying in a rocket was in 1633, by Ottoman Lagâri Hasan Çelebi. He didn't get anywhere near space but he used the same basic principles of rocket flight that would one day get people to space.
- In 1903, Russian mathematician Tsiolkovsky published a book showing how rockets could be used to explore outer space.
- In 1926, American Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fuelled rocket. He also proved that rockets could work in a vacuum, and he made a serious proposal for sending a rocket to the Moon.
- In 1942, the first rocket reached space (it was a V-2 missile).
- In 1961, the first human spaceflight was achieved.
As you can see, rocket technology was actually quite old by 1969 when the first human Moon landing happened. The Apollo Moon program was an enormous engineering challenge and there were many mistakes, but there was never any issue about the underlying technology.
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Author: Dave Owen.