Editor's comment: 50 years on from the Apollo moon landings...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 August 2019

Moon Landing

Unless you’ve been living under a (moon) rock, I’m sure you have been (happily) bombarded (as I was, working on EPDT’s August issue) with reminders of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission moon landings, in the run up to the 20th July.

This editorial was originally featured in the August 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

As I’m (slightly) too young to remember this historic achievement first time around, it was a good opportunity to reflect on what it took to get us there – and the impact it had...

Research by the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) for British Science Week earlier this year showed that almost a quarter of Brits named the moon landings as their most inspiring scientific moment of all time. Even half a century on, it remains an enormously influential and momentous achievement. Not surprising, given that estimates put the number of man-years expended on the Apollo program at well over one million – and its cost at more than $25 billion (the equivalent of over $600 billion in today’s money!).

That’s a huge amount of spend and effort by any measure, and there were plenty of competing priorities and hence, critics of such investment – especially as some viewed it as brinkmanship with the Soviet Union. The Space Race grew out of the Cold War arms race between the USA and the USSR following World War II – and the Soviets scored several early firsts, with the first successful satellite launch (Sputnik, in 1957), the first moon landing (unmanned in 1959) and the first human in space (Yuri Gagarin in 1961), as well as the first woman (Valentina Tereshkova in 1963).

But after Gagarin’s flight, President John F Kennedy was determined to regain the initiative and assert US supremacy. He publicly set the lofty goal in 1961, “...before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”, telling the American people – and the world – in 1962: “We choose to go to the moon...” The US then committed vast resources of time, money, and scientific and engineering brainpower and effort to achieving this goal – resulting in Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon in 1969.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

But the Apollo program provided much more than just a boost to American self-esteem. Indeed, many rank it as the greatest technological achievement in human history – and its legacy has been substantial. Technology such as integrated circuits and portable computers, solar panels, wireless headsets, fireproof clothing and cordless power tools are just some of the thousands of engineering innovations that resulted either directly or indirectly from the Apollo program, according to NASA.

And perhaps more significantly, it acted as an inspirational rallying cry for the study of science, engineering and technology – with STEM-focused PhD intakes at American universities, particularly in the field of physics, almost tripling throughout the 60s. It kick-started the electronics and computing industries, underpinning the huge technological advances of the last half a century.

STEM already has plenty of grand challenges to rally around – but perhaps it still needs one the public can also really draw inspiration from to help boost the next generation of scientists and engineers and solve the skills gap...

EPDT August’s issue contains features on Power technologies & Manufacturing applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...


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