Innovation often occurs in response to specific challenges. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth within the decade. Ultimately, more than 400,000 Americans contributed to the Apollo 11 mission that achieved that goal. People born or trained in Western Pennsylvania, as well as corporations based here, played major roles in the generation of new ideas for the materials, systems, and technologies that contributed to the success of the space program.
Using fairly basic technology and with almost no computer support, Valentine and others in his group took the scanned images gathered by the lunar orbiters and began developing maps. Valentine stayed for six years, providing data for the Apollo program from its beginning up to Apollo 17. The data his group generated proved useful for targeting three potential landing sites for the Apollo 11 astronauts. In the end however a computer glitch onboard the Lunar Module meant that astronaut Neil Armstrong had to take the lander off autopilot and pilot it to a new site. Almost immediately an order came from Mission Control for the group in the lab to figure out where the Module had landed. Valentine recalled, "Give me the photography. Let's see what we know, what we can find out. We just went to work, that was it. We never did figure it out."
Pittsburgh companies made major contributions to the support systems NASA required for the Apollo program. New ideas for communication with the spacecraft, housing the spacecraft, and delivering it to the launch pad were all developed locally.
Alcoa and Blaw-Knox Company played an important role in the communications process. The system developed and run by the Manned Space Flight Network, called the Unified S-Band System, relied on a series of 14 ground stations spread across the globe in order to be in constant communication with the astronauts. Although the Collins Radio Company had the primary contract for the stations, the three large 85-foot Antenna Stations were built by Blaw-Knox Steel Company of Blawnox, Pa., located on the Allegheny River just north of Aspinwall. These antennas not only provided critical communication during the mission, they also beamed back the images taken by Lunar Orbiters I to V that allowed NASA to accurately map the moon and decide on the best landing sites.
This Canberra, Australia antenna is one of three 85-foot structures built by the Blaw-Knox Company of Blawnox, Pa. The other two were in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California. Placed at approximately 120-degree intervals around the Earth, they ensured that Mission Control always had contact with the spacecraft despite the Earth’s rotation and the Moon’s movement around the Earth.
Edwin Wiegand founded his Pittsburgh company in 1917, based on his 1915 patent for an insulated heating device. In the 1960s, his company developed a strip heater that kept the electronic control box on the Lunar Module Eagle at a temperature that insured the crucial fuel triggering device would function.
J. P. Devine in Lawrenceville made industrial autoclaves that were essential to producing the heat shield on the Command and Service Module. This large pressure cooker tempered the metal to ready it for the extreme temperatures in space.
Each Lunar Module contained this aluminum honeycomb structure, developed by Pittsburgh’s Alcoa company, in the legs to absorb the shock of landing on the Moon. During the first Moon landing, Armstrong and Aldrin cut the engine so late that they had a very soft landing and hardly compressed the aluminum shock absorbers. As a result, they had a much higher jump from the ladder to the Moon’s surface than later landings.
Westinghouse developed three cameras for the Apollo Program that flew on Apollo missions 9 through 14. The Apollo 11 lunar surface camera is on top, the center color camera flew on Apollo 10 and 11, but stayed on the Command Module, and the bottom camera, a modification of the Apollo 10 color camera, recorded images on the Moon during Apollo 12 and 14.
Billy Drummond and Jack Kinzler (right) carefully folded the flag using a 12-step procedure. Then they packed the flag in a thermal blanket of insulation to protect it from temperatures that reached 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit during the 13 seconds of touchdown on the Moon. Packed in a metal shroud, the entire assembly then mounted on the left side of the Lunar Module’s ladder.
A Bradford, Pa. company received a NASA contract to make the combination hatchet and saw for the astronaut survival kit. The kit, stored on the Command Module, provided the necessary tools for survival if the astronauts missed their intended landing site and ended up in a desert or jungle terrain.
Apollo astronauts donned MSA’s Comfo® brand respirators, which had a reversed valve system to filter the astronauts’ exhaled air instead of the usual filtering of inhaled air, during their quarantine period. MSA had also designed canisters that absorbed carbon dioxide in the spacecraft and a sterilization filtering system for the Apollo spacecraft to keep earthbound contaminants from polluting the Moon.
Designed by about 50 students at Carnegie Mellon University, the solar-powered Andy rover can traverse rough landscape and survive the radiation and extreme temperatures of the Moon while exploring pits and caves for potential resources and future habitation. Andy has the ability to negotiate terrain, host payloads, endure lunar conditions, and convey awareness to Earth. The robot exhibits superb mobility and stability due to a low center-of-gravity, rocker suspension, high torque, aggressive treads, and extremely low soil contact pressure.
In 2014, the Andy rover won Google’s Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prize in the mobility and imaging subsystem categories. Andy is named for CMU founders Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon.
This configuration of Peregrine will fly on Mission One, launching as a secondary payload onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle. Future missions will incorporate technology to make precision landings at sites of interest, allow for operations on the far side of the Moon, and make lunar night survival feasible.