Primitive Metrology Tools Supported Moon Landing

Man first walked on the moon on July 20th 1969. The Apollo program was a huge feat of engineering and resulted in many new technologies and products coming to market. Apollo stimulated numerous areas of technology, leading to over 1,800 spin-off products, these include the CAT scanner, computer microchip, cordless power tools, joysticks, and satellite television.

The Saturn V rockets that launched Apollo 11 into space was 363 feet tall, weighed 6.2 million pounds and took 7.5 million pounds of thrust to get Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins (the Apollo 11 pilot who stayed in lunar orbit) off of Earth.  400,000 people are estimated to have worked on the program.

The Saturn V rocket, a collaborative effort between Boeing, North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft; was an incredibly complex machine with over 3 million parts. But what was the status of industrial metrology back in 1969 to support the huge development and manufacturing efforts of the Apollo program?

Renishaw was only established in 1973 after the invention of the touch-trigger probe during the Concorde engine development program at Rolls Royce in the early 70’s. Until this time the first coordinate measuring machines that had emerged were extremely primitive manual devices with only a limited digital readout and mechanical ‘hard’ probes. The laser tracker, prominent throughout aerospace manufacturing today, was not invented until 1987. The articulated portable arm CMM patent was filed in 1974.

All of today’s numerous advanced metrology technologies were not available to support the development and manufacturing engineers responsible for getting man to the moon.

As we look back, and celebrate the Apollo achievement, we can only imagine how much more difficult achieving the precision and verification mandated by the critical nature of each and every component that comprised the complete Apollo program was without the metrology toolkit we have at our disposal today.