Fly me to the moon

It’s a bit hard to believe, but Monday marks 40 years (40 years!) since we first walked on the moon. “The Eagle has landed.” That was July 20, 1969.


Apollo 11 is a bit off the Commercial Airplanes topic, however it was a significant milestone not only for the world, but for Boeing.

So I wanted to share a little history with you with the help of some material from our archives and Web site.

I was just a young school kid then, but I remember it very well - watching the moon walk on our black and white TV. Little did I know that my career would take me to the company that built many of the major components that put Apollo 11 on the moon.

Boeing, and companies that would later join Boeing, had a hand in the mission to the moon dating back to President Kennedy’s initial vision in 1961 of landing a man on the moon by the end of the ‘60s.


Click on the image above to watch Boeing’s video tribute to Apollo 11.

Boeing spacecraft did a lot of the early “ground work” before the manned mission to the moon. Starting in 1966, five Boeing-built Lunar Orbiters mapped 99% of the moon’s surface.

Other unmanned spacecraft known as Surveyor, built by Hughes (now Boeing Satellite Systems), landed on the moon and transmitted close up and long range photos from the surface. We didn’t know what to expect on the moon when men landed. These missions helped us prepare for Apollo.

McDonnell Aircraft led the way in manned space flight, building the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft that came before Apollo.


A Boeing team, at Cape Canaveral, Florida monitored preparations for the Apollo missions around the clock.

With the exception of the Lunar Module, which was built by Grumman, all of the major parts of the actual Apollo spacecraft and rockets would be developed and built by Boeing or companies that would later join to form today’s Boeing.

For example, Boeing assembled the gigantic first stage booster of the Saturn V rocket at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Parts for the booster were shipped there from Boeing’s Wichita plant.


The massive Saturn V in assembly at NASA’s Michoud facility.

A lot of the other work on Apollo centered on facilities Southern California where North American Aviation assembled the command and service modules at Downey, as well as the second stage of the Saturn rocket at Seal Beach. North American’s Rocketdyne division worked on the Saturn engines at Canoga Park, and Douglas manufactured the third Saturn stage at Huntington Beach.


Boeing heritage company, North American Aviation, assembled the Command and Service modules in Southern California.

During the early development of Apollo, Boeing dedicated about 2,000 top managers and engineers to work with NASA and its contractors to certify the Apollo spacecraft and launch vehicle for flight. According to Boeing historian Mike Lombardi, this put quite a drain on company resources at a very busy time in our history.

In the 1960s we were developing the Supersonic Transport, while at the same time planning and kicking off the 747 and 737 programs.

As Lombardi says in a more detailed history of Boeing and Apollo on our Web site, this was a huge project, overshadowed only by our efforts during World War II:

“It was one of the greatest achievements in human history. Apollo taught us that if you dream something and you’ve got enough people with the desire, talent, and can-do attitude, you can make it happen. That’s what Apollo was all about, and I think that’s what Boeing is all about. Boeing can take a dream or idea and make it a reality.”


Apollo 15, 16, and 17 astronauts drove around the moon’s surface in the lunar rover, built by Boeing in Kent, Washington. (NASA photo)

So, what’s next? Well, Boeing is working with NASA to finish work on the International Space Station and helping develop the next generation of manned spacecraft.

Boeing remains one of NASA’s largest contractors and will build the upper stage and avionics for the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle, which is planned to take astronauts back to the moon in the next decade or so. Beyond that we hope to be involved in future missions to Mars. Production of the Ares I rocket upper stage will mark Boeing’s return to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility – same place we built the Saturn V first stage.

By the way, there are a lot of resources out there to learn more about Apollo. The ABC-TV station in Houston has posted an 8-part series called Moon, Mars and Beyond in honor of the anniversary. And the National Air and Space Museum has a gallery of material. Here are some great technical diagrams. In this month’s Boeing Frontiers online you can take a look back to 40 years ago.


Apollo 11 on the launch pad.

The U.S. cable-TV station, the History Channel will be featuring the debut of a Boeing-sponsored broadcast called “Moonshot.” It’s an original docu-drama using both NASA footage and character reenactments to tell the story of the moon mission, including Boeing’s involvement in the construction of the Saturn V. “Moonshot” will air July 20 at 9 p.m. Eastern time and on July 21 at 1 a.m. Eastern time.

There’s also a very cool “live” re-broadcast of the entire mission you can experience here.


Man on the moon.

Finally, bringing it all down to earth, our Boeing Space Exploration division employees in Houston will be celebrating in style on Monday. In other words, they’ll be dining on moon pies during the day. And during the week the Boeing cafeteria in Houston will be serving menu items from 1969.

Out of this world, huh?

Comments (10)

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Wow, Randy - you've outdone yourself with this one! Excellent post! I'm following the live re-enactment where I can - luckily, will be viewing the entire Stage 7 to Landing of the mission.

Interestingly, the Saturn V still holds the record for the largest and most powerful rocket ever placed into regular operation, and did so with a 100% success rate. 1969 was surely a busy year for the creation of several icons.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

President Kennedy has set the course and man for the first time has set foot on another world forty years ago today, even if we have set foot on the moon today whether for the first time or after several dozen missions, this would have still been a massive accomplishment.

I only live about fifteen minutes from from where the second stage of the Saturn V was built not far from the Pacific Coast Highway.

Thankfully we will be going back to the moon in around 2020 with the Ares I and V rockets, perhaps then as when the first human to landed on the moon all people from around the world will watch and I be will entering my thoughts on Randy's Journal.

Farzin Shadpour (Toulouse, France):

What do you think about about space tourism ?

Considering Boeing's history and experience don't you think that we should enter this market and build safe spaceliners ?

Don P. Bennett (Clear Lake, Texas ):

I was a part of the joy and sadness that occurred throughout the Apollo Program. I trained astronauts on the Apollo flight control system, supported check out and worked safety elements of the program from beginning to end with ASTP. It was a great program with many personal rewards and joy of completing things started and finished. The low point was Apollo 1 on the pad and the high point was the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

Your posting highlights the rewarding part of the program.

Adam Spencer (Everett, Wa):

If you get a chance read PALE BLUE DOT by Carl Sagan, or better yet get the audio track in his own voice.

Anthony Overman (washington):

Thanks for posting humankind's greatest achievement! My dad (Charles Overman) passed away recently after 41 yrs at Boeing and left me a big red Apollo Boeing book from 1969 with his name and hundreds of other Boeing employees for their contributions to this miracle Saturn V rocket from little old New Orleans. I am fascinated by the stories of the skilled engineers with slide rules and the shear complexity of this large scale integrated effort.

It was very difficult. Also I was born on July 20th so now I understand why dad always called me his Apollo son.

Chris C (South Africa):

Excellent article, thank you! It's truly phenomenal to think that it's over 40 years ago since man first walked on the moon!! Really a huge achievement. Again, excellent post, it was very interesting.

Sara Howard (Tallahassee, FL.):

What a delight to find this website! Brings back a lot of memories! You see, I am one of 2 gals who worked for Boeing at Michoud as engineers on the SI-C Stage. I have a blog:

I have worked for many companies but I LOVE BOEING!!
My book has just been released by the publisher, "Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon".
Engineers and other folk are finding my blog and I am receiving emails from England, Scotland, Australia, Japan, Russia and Argentina.
I have been speaking to the kids and the U.S.Naval Academy. Also, the Air & Space Magazine at the Smithsonian has my written bio.

There seems to be a resurgence in interest of Apollo worldwide.
God Bless you for the great information!

Anthony Tony Tortorich, Jr. (Las Vegas, Nevada):

I worked at the Michaud plant from 1964 to 1966. I went into the Army for two years and return to Boeing from 1968 to 1970. We are all part of history. Does anyone remember what Boeing call M.O.R.T. ? Do you also remember in 1966 they did not have a cover page. Who received credit for coming up with that cover page ? If anyone has the answer please let me know.

Good Luck to all and enjoy life.

Bruce Davis (Crossville, TN):

This article brings back a lot of memories. I was an employee of North American (later NAA Rockwell) working at KSC during the Apollo program and worked inside the cockpit as a SCO (Spacecraft Operator) on the testing leading up to many of the launches. I was present on Pad 34 next to the command module getting ready to pull out the umbilical during the Countdown Demonstration Test when the fire occured on Apollo 1. I was also inside the Command Module prior to Apollo 13 liftoff while they were loading liquid hydrogen and oxygen and cycled the same switch for the valve heater that later caused the explosion in the Service Module. Was also out at Downey for about six weeks when they sent a bunch of us out there to give those workers some vacation time off. I also did one launch recovery at Norfolk NAS detanking hypergolics and safing the backup pyros. Spent a lot of time in the fallback trailers at Pad 34, 37 and 39 during the testing.

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