From making the lunar landings possible to interpreting the meaning of the moon rocks, the institute was a vital part of history.
Fifty years ago, in July 1969, humanity made its first expedition to another world, when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and two astronauts walked on its surface. That moment changed the world in ways that still reverberate today.
MIT’s deep and varied connections to that epochal event — many of which have been described on 'MIT News' — began years before the actual landing, when the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now Draper) signed the very first contract to be awarded for the Apollo programme after its announcement by President John F Kennedy in 1961. The institute’s involvement continued throughout the programme — and is still ongoing today.
MIT’s role in creating the navigation and guidance system that got the mission to the moon and back has been widely recognised in books, movies, and television series.
But many other aspects of the Institute’s involvement in the Apollo programme and its legacy, including advances in mechanical and computational engineering, simulation technology, biomedical studies, and the geophysics of planet formation, have remained less celebrated.
Amid the growing chorus of recollections in various media that have been appearing around this 50th anniversary, here is a small collection of bits and pieces about some of the unsung heroes and lesser-known facts from the Apollo programme and MIT’s central role in it.