I’ve seen opinion polls which reveal that up to 20% of Americans, 25% of Britons, and 28% of Russians believe that the moon landings were fabricated. In 2001 the Fox TV documentary Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? claimed NASA, in order to win the “Space Race” against the Soviet Union, faked the first moon landing in 1969.
I don’t know whether to be upset or amused? I’ll explain.
The Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, on 4 October 1957. America followed with its own satellite, Explorer 1, four months later. The Space Race was on!
On 25 May 1961 President Kennedy proposed in a speech to Congress that we land a man on the moon, and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. Project Apollo began.
In July 1962 I was hired by Black & Decker as a test technician in Product Development. In order to follow our space program more closely I began subscribing to Aviation Week, a magazine later becoming Aviation Week and Space Technology. For the next eleven years, as I worked on my mechanical engineering degree at JHU Evening College, I followed the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs with intense interest.
In 1966 Martin-Marietta won a contract by NASA to provide a drill for retrieving rock cores from the moon. Martin-Marietta subcontracted to Black & Decker the design and production of the power-head portion of the drill. Yardley battery company provided the battery; Chicago-Latrobe provided the drill-string.
On 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, became the first human being to set foot on another world.
The first Apollo Lunar Surface Drill (ALSD) flew on Apollo 13, but as you may know, that mission did not result in a lunar landing. The first time the ALSD was used (by Commander David Scott) was on the Apollo 15 mission. The ALSD also retrieved core samples during the last two lunar missions, Apollo 16 and 17.
The ALSD looked like this:
The box on top contained the battery. The thing with the wire cage around it is the powerhead which contained the motor, gearbox, and hammering mechanism. The drill string is the tubular drill bit with the spiral flutes.
The powerhead was unlike any rotary hammer B&D had ever produced:
Since there is no air on the moon, the motor could not blow cooling air through its housing. Instead, the motor housing was sealed air-tight and filled with nitrogen. The motor fan circulated that gas to transfer heat to the housing which then radiated the heat to space. While drilling, the housing got very hot – hence the wire cage to protect the astronaut from burns.
Because of an airless moon, we could not use the favored “air-spring” hammering mechanism standard with all power tool makers. Instead we designed a mechanism that would work efficiently in a vacuum and in one-sixth Earth gravity.
Because of strict weight limits we had to go to extraordinary lengths to reduce the weight of the powerhead. We used thin-walled magnesium housings instead of aluminum (plastic was out of the question because of poor heat transfer). The steel shaft of the motor’s armature (the part that spins) was hollow. Minimal grease was used in the gearbox and around the hammering mechanism. All gears had hollowed sides. You would not believe the level of documentation NASA required for tracking the fabrication of every component of the drill.
It was not entirely a joke when we said that if the powerhead, which NASA required to have a run-time of five hours, lived more than five-and-a-quarter hours it was over designed!
B&D Product Development had about forty engineers, designers, and drafters working on this project at one time or another. My job was to draw, using the project engineer’s layout, two of the three magnesium housings. I also had to calculate the center of gravity of the assembled powerhead. The center of gravity of the lunar lander (LM), and therefore the sum of all its components, had to be known precisely.
B&D, in delivering ten powerheads to NASA, lost money on this project, but making money was not our goal. Our management committed to this project for company prestige and advancement of cordless tool technology.
My role in the Apollo project was miniscule. But considering that there were probably upwards of a half-million people who contributed, some of whom risked their lives in the project, ignorant people who perpetrate the conspiracy hoax are mildly perturbing.
Whether or not you value the Apollo project, my broader point is this:
In an age short on real heroes and endeavors which may unite us, let’s recognize what we could accomplish, the difficult problems we Earthlings could solve if we applied our resources to common goals. Think about medical science, world poverty, and keeping our beautiful planet viable for its inhabitants into the distant future.
Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University. He now lives in Kent County, MD.