How did NASA control the Saturn V.

50 years of the moon landing


One of the most famous images of the 20th century: astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon, July 21, 1969

The patents that got the man on the moon

It was one of the greatest events in human history: 50 years ago, an astronaut walked on the moon. A small step in the moment for Neil Armstrong, but a giant leap for humanity. Landing on another celestial body for the first time was an adventure that dwarfed even the greatest expeditions such as the first circumnavigation of the world.

Half a century later this historic moment is being remembered all over the world. The first moon landing as part of NASA's Apollo program was a highly complex mission that required a large number of new technical developments. For the anniversary, we remember some patented inventions that made the Apollo 11 moon landing possible.

Pioneers in Massachusetts and Reinickendorf

"Rocket apparatus" by Robert Goddard, 1913 (US1102653A)

A rocket was recognized as the preferred means of transport for manned space flight relatively early on. As early as 1913, the American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard (1882-1945) applied for a patent for a "Rocket Apparatus" ( US1102653A). Unrecognized during his lifetime and dismissed as a phantasy, he succeeded in launching a liquid rocket for the first time in Massachusetts in 1926. He applied for many more patents; last in 1940 a "launching apparatus" for missiles ( US2307125A).

Another root of the Apollo program lay in the “Space Ship Association”: rocket pioneers such as Wernher von Braun and Hermann Oberth experimented with rockets with liquid propulsion systems in Berlin-Reinickendorf in 1928. Oberth filed one of the earliest patent applications for this in 1929, namely "Device for propelling vehicles by the recoil of emitted combustion gases" ( DE570511A).

The bloody roots of the Saturn rocket

Wernher von Braun in front of the Saturn V's engines

As is well known, Wernher von Braun later became the most important manager of early space travel in the West. For his projects he literally went over dead bodies and built rockets first for the Nazis, then for the Americans.

His “Aggregat 4” was the first rocket to reach space in 1944. It became known under its propaganda name "Retaliation Weapon 2" (V2). It claimed thousands of lives - both during its production in grueling forced labor in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp and during its use as the first ballistic surface-to-surface missile in attacks on the inner cities of London and Antwerp.

After the Americans "took over" Braun and other German rocket pioneers after World War II, he developed the first large rockets that were also powered by liquid fuel. The under US2967393A Braun's patented rocket served as the starting point for the development of the massive Saturn V rocket that Armstrong and colleagues brought to the moon.

Apollo's women - heroines in the background

Everyone still knows the name of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. The second moon driver Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin is also well known to this day; Even the name of the third crew member Michael Collins, who stayed in orbit during the moon landing in the spaceship, is still known to many. But very few knew until recently that some women had also played a decisive role in the millennium project on the moon landing. In recent years, the names of some of these heroines have become known to a wider public in the background. For the anniversary, we are introducing some of them in a small series.

Engines for 100-meter missiles

"Space capsule", 1959 (US3093346A)

In order to send a manned landing apparatus to the moon, the rocket must have a very high propulsion power. This problem was solved on the one hand by the fact that the moon rocket had several drive stages (there were three for the 111-meter-high Saturn V). On the other hand, very powerful rocket engines were also developed. US3077073A describes a newly developed engine that propels rockets by means of combustion of hydrogen and oxygen.

In addition to building a lunar rocket, a capsule had to be developed that is suitable for transporting people as safely as possible. US3093346A shows a space capsule which has been placed at the tip of the missile. This space capsule was equipped with an emergency return system in case of failure, as shown in US3001739A is described. As part of the Apollo program, the space capsule was first brought into an earth orbit and then on a trajectory in the direction of the moon by means of several propulsion episodes of the three rocket stages.

Navigation for delicate maneuvers

"Azimuth Laying System" (US3415126A)

The flight to the moon and the uncoupling and coupling of two spaceships in orbit required for a moon landing required a sophisticated navigation system. US3104545A (1.68 MB) shows a gyroscope-based guidance and navigation system (“Guidance system” by Charles Draper). US3415126A (0.97 MB) in turn describes a guidance and navigation system for the precise alignment of a spacecraft (“azimuth laying system”), which is proposed for use in the rockets of the Saturn class.

The exact alignment of a spacecraft is particularly necessary for a coupling maneuver between two spacecraft, as was also carried out during the Apollo mission. The Apollo capsule was set in rotation to stabilize the flight attitude on the way to the moon and back to earth. The NASA patent shows this US3752993A (1.43 MB) an attitude sensor for a rotating spaceship that enables a horizon scan.

Soft landing is crucial

"Combined shelter and vehicle" (US219690S)

For the actual landing on the moon, a special lunar module had to be developed, such as the one in US219690S is shown. This manned lunar module (the "Eagle)" was then decoupled from the space capsule ("Columbia") in a lunar orbit and steered onto the lunar surface. Before the first moon landing, the consistency of the moon's surface was not known very precisely. Therefore, special attention was paid to the construction of the landing struts and their support. US3181821A and US3175789A describe landing buffers that are suitable for landing on the moon.

The surface of the moon is a very hostile place for humans. Therefore, special suits had to be developed that allow a short stay on the moon. US3463150A (1.78 MB) describes a life support system for a lunar suit. Such suits also had to allow some mobility so that the astronauts could work on the moon. US3534406A shows flexibly movable joints for a lunar suit. Also US3751727A (1.4 MB) outlines a space suit suitable for the moon.

Victory in the "space race"

With the first moon landing, the USA triumphed in the “space race”, the race with the Soviet Union for the first human on the earth's satellite. Initially, the USSR was a leader in space research: in 1957 it shocked the Americans with "Sputnik", the first satellite, in 1959 with the lunar impact of "Lunik-2" and in 1961 with the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Thereupon the USA multiplied its efforts, at times employed over 400,000 people in the area of ​​the Apollo program and finally won the prestigious race to the moon. The Russians might not have lost their lead if the “mastermind” of their space program, the ingenious designer Sergei Korolev, had not died unexpectedly in 1966.

Safe home

The Saturn V rocket "rollout" shortly before the start of the Apollo 11 mission

After the Apollo astronauts left the lunar surface, they were brought back to earth in the space capsule. Another critical maneuver was carried out: the space capsule was immersed in the earth's atmosphere. Since the space capsule was still moving at high speed, it was heated to very high temperatures by air friction. Therefore, the space capsule had to be equipped with a heat shield. US3130940A shows a corresponding heat shield which enables the space capsule to be immersed safely into the earth's atmosphere (provided that the angle of immersion and other factors are taken into account).

Ultimately, the Apollo space capsules landed in the sea as part of a controlled splashdown. US3484826A describes a system for gentle watering of a space capsule.

After the sensational first moon landing and five other missions that brought a total of ten (male) astronauts to Earth's satellite, NASA ended its Apollo program in 1972 in favor of other projects such as Skylab and the Space Shuttle missions. At that time nobody would have expected that there would be no more moon landings for over half a century.

In the meantime, NASA has announced that it will return to the moon in 2024. And then finally a woman should also be there.

Images: NASA (public domain), DEPATISnet, NASA (public domain), DEPATISnet, NASA (public domain)

Status: May 18, 2021