Did We Lose The Technology To Go To The Moon?

How did we lose the technology to go to the Moon? originally appeared on Quorathe knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Robert Frost, Instructor and Flight Controller at NASA, on Quora.

Why does it take three years to develop a new car, when it shares 90% of its “DNA” with the previous model? Why does it take six years to develop a new airplane when it shares 90% of its “DNA” with the previous model?

The answer is that they are complex devices. A launch vehicle and spacecraft destined to go to the moon is much more complex and operates at the edge of the envelope where there is little tolerance for imprecision and error.

When operating on the edge of the envelope, thousands and thousands of hours go into testing and tweaking. The development and operations teams acquire expertise that no one else on the planet has. The vehicle cannot be built or operated without that expertise.

Operating a space mission involves reams of paper in the forms of flight rules and operational procedures. Those rules and procedures are drafted over thousands of hours of test and simulations. A change in the vehicle can send ripples of changes through those documents.

The Saturn V rocket had over three million parts. The command and service modules and lunar module were composed of millions of additional parts. An individual person cannot contemplate the scale of detail needed to assemble and operate those vehicles.

So, when the Apollo program ended, the factories that assembled those vehicles were retasked or shut down. The jigs were disassembled. The molds were destroyed. The technicians, engineers, scientists, and flight controllers moved onto other jobs. Over time, some of the materials used became obsolete.

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