History lesson: GE played key role in Apollo 11 moonwalk

General Electric

On the 40th anniversary of the incredible voyage of Apollo 11 to the lunar surface, we thought we’d not only tip a hat to the heroes at NASA and the astronauts who made the actual journey — but to the 6,000 GE employees who also helped make it possible. When Neil Armstrong took that historic first step on the moon in 1969, it was with boots made from GE silicone rubber.

These boots are made for walking: GE’s technology not only went into Neil Armstrong’s boot — but GE was later one of two private companies selected by NASA to participate in detailed examinations of the lunar samples the astronauts brought back.

In all, 37 different GE operations were involved in the mission. All manned flights through Apollo relied on GE radio command guidance equipment. The Space Division supplied overall quality control, systems engineering support, check-out equipment, Saturn launch vehicle test facilities and the ship-to satellite system that provided the first live color TV pictures of splash-down and recovery.

Nice shades: The Lexan polycarbonate resin in their helmets was discovered by GE chemist Daniel W. Fox.

As The New York Times reported the morning after the recovery, GE’s TV transmission system beamed pick-ups from the U.S.S. Hornet to a Pacific satellite for subsequent world relay, with the paper noting that “the color was uncannily good for such a circuit.”

And, the astronauts’ helmets were made partially of Lexan plastic — specifically the visor. It’s a transparent plastic of unsurpassed impact resistance that was invented at GE’s Global Research Center in 1953. GE researchers also developed technology that used the Lexan portion of the helmet as a way to record the radiation exposure of the astronauts while in space.

As GE’s chairman and CEO Fred J. Borch said at the time, “History has been made, the world has been changed, and the entire General Electric Company can take pride in the contribution that has been made.”

It’s a relationship with NASA that continues to this day.

* Read GE’s innovation timeline
* Read about our latest work with NASA on jet engines

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