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Small steps and giant leaps, 50 years later

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By Sherry Robinson

On July 20 we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. While it’s rightfully framed as a national achievement, the flawless execution of a near impossible goal was really an engineering feat.
And its hero, Neil Armstrong, was, in his heart, an engineer.

“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in 2000. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”

Armstrong remained modest and avoided publicity for the rest of his life. That was because, as an engineer, he understood that he stood on a lot of shoulders.

That’s one of my takeaways from this remarkable event. The second is what a massively complex undertaking it was.

The space race involved many thousands of people – NASA alone employed 30,000 – scattered across the country.

In New Mexico, at White Sands Missile Range, NASA had a propulsion system development facility that tested the engines for the Lunar Excursion Module under lunar atmospheric conditions. The LEM, as it was called, would take the two astronauts from orbit to the surface of the moon and back again. At a second site, the launch escape system was tested.

My third takeaway is that commemoration should involve more than moon rocks and space suits.


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