How Cleveland played a vital role in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon 50 years ago

Posted at 9:48 AM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 18:23:40-04

CLEVELAND — Fifty years ago this morning at 9:32 a.m. the Saturn V rocket carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins launched from the Kennedy Space Center. It was a trip that would captivate the world as just four days later, Armstrong would be the first human to step foot on the moon.

The Apollo 11 launch took place just over a thousand miles from Cleveland and the moon landing another 238,000 miles more but the path that led to it all was through Northeast Ohio and the Lewis Research Center, now NASA Glenn.

A Lewis Center news release from this week in 1969 touted the center's contributions from pioneering research in rocket tests with liquid hydrogen and oxygen systems to the engineering studies of tanks, lines, and liquifiers for liquid hydrogen. There were wind tunnel tests of the Saturn vehicles and Launch Escape Subsystem and studies in zero gravity for settling propellants in fuel tanks.

The man who led all of this was the director of NASA Lewis Abe Silverstein who had previously been charged with developing and initiating all space missions and it was he who came up with the name "Apollo" after reading a book of Greek mythology one night at home.

"He thought the image of Apollo riding his chariot across the Sun was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed mission," the 1969 release stated.

Much of the groundbreaking research carried out at NASA Lewis continues today at NASA Glenn as they prepare for a new mission.

"We were given direction by the new administration," said current NASA Glenn Director and former Astronaut Janet Kavandi, "the next people on the moon will be American and we'll have the first woman on the moon at our next landing so we're going to do that by 2024."

NASA Scientist Noah Petro said the Artemis program will pick up where the Apollo program left off. "NASA wants to return to the moon 50 years after our first moon landing because we know we have much more to learn about the moon, about the earth and indeed the entire solar system with additional exploration," Petro said.

"Apollo explored a limited portion of the near side of the moon. We now know that there are other more enticing places to go that we'll send humans. Artemis Program is going to be exploring the south pole of the moon, an area we know to be not only geologically diverse and wonderful but also rich in potential volatiles that we can use not only sustain our presence at the moon but enable us to go deeper into the solar system and eventually onward to Mars.

"And so its the return to the Moon that benefits from the Apollo exploration, leverages the 50 years of knowledge that we've gained about the moon since Apollo 11 but also means that we will be able to learn how to live off the moon and eventually go deeper into space," he said.

And when the time comes said NASA Glenn's Director of Space Flight Systems, what will be clear is what was clear 50 years ago.

"If you're gonna get to Mars, you gotta come through NASA Glenn."