Remembering The Apollo Program

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A group of scientists building a lunar module
A Lunar Module being tested at Cape Kennedy.

During the last few months, public health experts have called for a massive, moonshot-style response to the coronavirus — a new “Apollo program.”

The original push to put Americans on the moon was sprawling, speedy, expensive, and ultimately successful. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things,” John F. Kennedy said, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

One of the things that made the Apollo program hard was designing and building the lunar modules or LMs — the actual spacecraft that would take Americans to the moon.

Here are some rare images that show how challenging these machines were to build — and that remind us how Americans have done things like this before and can do them again.

An overhead view of the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
The campus of the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, in Bethpage, Long Island, contained a clean room (the dark building in the center), where three LMs could be built at once. The building in front of it contained the ACE (Automatic Checkout Equipment) Room, where the LM’s testing was run. In the lower-left is the Cold Flow Test Site, where the valves and tubing in the LM’s propulsion and cooling systems were tested with nitrogen and glycol under pressure. Image sourced from Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module.
A group of managers standing together going over the LM-5 vehicle operating schedule
As the pressure and the schedule for building the LMs on time was extraordinary, the various managers of each vehicle met every day to go over any problems or delays that needed to be resolved. All meetings were conducted while standing so that no one would get too comfortable. Image sourced from Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module.
A group of engineers building the lunar module
As equipment was steadily being installed inside the LM, work also progressed on the exterior. The ascent stage has now been covered with its aluminized Mylar thermal blanketing, and the thin skins are being secured over it. The descent stage’s landing gear outriggers have also been covered with shielding. Image sourced from Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module.
An image of the control panel inside the lunar module
Inside the LMs, the primary navigation and guidance readouts, flight computer keyboard, propulsion control, reaction control, environmental control, and flight control and stabilization panels were either shared or duplicated at both stations. In the upper center is the alignment optical telescope, used for navigation and docking. In the lower center is the primary guidance computer keyboard. Image sourced from Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module.
the lunar module going through its last round of testing
After returning from the Cold Flow Test Site, the nearly complete LM stages were remated in the clean room one last time. The final systems could now be tested and the landing gear fitted. Image sourced from Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module.