The Apollo moon missions captured the world’s imagination and expanded ideas about what was possible for humankind—but not many people know that this incredible space-age milestone was about so much more than the journey itself.
When Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon, they had several objectives, including placing a TV camera, conducting a solar wind experiment, and collecting lunar material. Those samples of rocks and dust contained information that completely changed our understanding of the solar system. Elements contained within some rocks brought back to Earth with the Apollo missions led to a new theory about the moon’s creation being formed after another larger body collided with Earth (Giant Impact Theory). The theory suggests the collision also set the Earth on its current rotational course, allowing the moon’s gravity to pull our planet into its 24-hour cycle.
If NASA scientists hadn’t developed a way to correct garbled signals from its spacecraft, it’s possible we couldn’t surf through hundreds of channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Nor could we communicate long distances without the 200+ orbiting satellites beaming our information back to Earth.
The device you’re using to read this article has direct ancestry with the Apollo moon missions. The integrated circuit that was necessary to manage the complex onboard systems of the Apollo capsules is the precursor to the microchip, paving the way for companies like Intel Corp. to revolutionize computer production and send the world into the tech boom of the 1980s. The moon missions can take early credit for everything from pocket calculators to your smartphone and the proliferation of communication across social networks.
Like the convenience of a cordless power drill or dustbuster? They were born from the technology used to drill for samples on the moon’s surface. The memory foam mattress you sleep on can give credit to shock-absorbing helmet and capsule seat cushions. The athletic shoes you wear today were created from the careful design of space boots. Even the streamlined Speedos worn by Olympic athletes were designed using the same ideas for reducing drag in space. Quartz watches, insulated food bags, smoke detectors and home security systems are just a few of the items we use each day, perhaps without knowing their lunar origins.
Modern health care owes a debt to NASA technology. The small heart monitor developed for the Apollo missions, which was capable of delivering an electric shock at the detection of a heart attack, is the predecessor of today’s life-saving defibrillators. Improved technology for kidney dialysis patients was developed from NASA tech, as were CAT scans, MRIs, radiography and other detection equipment, which came from NASA digital imaging technology. Controlling spacecraft via remote control eventually led to the development of mobile artificial limbs. Even smaller items such as ear thermometers and scratch-resistant lenses had their origins in Apollo technology.
While pictures of the Earth’s surface from space first came to us with early rocket missions in the 1940s, humans had not seen their own planet as a whole from a great distance. The iconic Blue Marble photograph shot by astronaut Harrison Schmitt immediately caused ripple effects among humans who gained a collective new perspective of the planet’s ethereal vulnerability. This and subsequent photos helped fuel the environmental movement, as well as proponents of peace, who saw a sense of unity in a planet without borders.
The seventeen Apollo moon missions gave us incredible strides in space exploration—and the legacy continues every day in the knowledge we’ve gained and within the items at our fingertips.