Getting the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon in July 1969 required the development of an incredible array of innovative high technology, created at a furious pace: the world’s biggest rocket; the world’s smallest, fastest, most nimble computer; the first worldwide, high-speed data network; spacesuits and space food and a moon-ready dune buggy.
Problem was, in the late 1960s much of the visionary technology the moon missions required exceeded our ability to manufacture it in an equally advanced way. So a surprising number of the Apollo spacecraft’s critical parts ended up being crafted and assembled by hand, by a vast battalion of little-known and little-heralded workers back on earth.
Such ingenuity was mandatory during the Cold War era. As the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in a tense battle for global supremacy, the goal of being the first superpower to plant a flag on the moon gave the Apollo mission added geopolitical urgency. The Soviets had made the first big splash in space with Sputnik, and then launching the first astronaut Yuri Gagarin. President John F. Kennedy wanted America to re-establish its reputation for leadership in science, technology and engineering. The fact that something wasn’t easily manufactured didn’t slow anyone down.
Herein, some of the more vivid examples of cutting-edge spaceflight equipment, painstaking fabricated by hand, that made possible what was arguably the most ambitious, and fantastical, voyage in history.