The Apollo 8 mission in 1968 marked the first time in human history that people left Earth’s orbit. While it didn’t land on the moon, it made the Apollo 11 landing the following year possible by testing key technologies to reach the moon. A giant rocket, a redesigned spacecraft, and a revolutionary new computer helped complete the 500,000-mile round trip from the Earth to the moon and back.
Five Apollo 8 Technological Breakthroughs
Published: January 14, 2019
Onscreen: 5 Apollo 8 Tech Breakthroughs
#1: Saturn V Rocket with its F-1 Engines
The Saturn V rocket
Weight: over 6 million pounds
Height: 363 feet…as tall as a 36-story building
F-1 engine…10X more powerful than anything ever built before
Fuel and oxygen were injected through a flat injector plate…like a shower head.
At first, this caused instability and the engine kept self-destructing.
They installed metal ridges called baffles on the F-1 to divide injectors.
#2 Inertial Navigation
This allows a pilot to navigate from point A to point B knowing only the starting location.
Gyroscopes measure changes in direction.
Accelerometers track changes in speed.
To correct for small daily errors, the navigator used a space sextant and the position of the stars and Earth
#3 Digital Fly-By-Wire
Maneuvering Apollo 8 involved firing 16 different thrusters plus a main engine.
Too complex for manual controls
So the pilot would tell a computer where they wanted to go and the computer would control
the spacecraft to get it there.
“Fly-by-wire” is used in commercial and military aircraft today.
#4 Guidance Computer
In the 1950s, computers were the size of buildings, but Apollo 8’s computer had to be only 1 cubic foot.
New integrated circuits could shrink hundreds of transistors and other components down into one tiny chip.
Astronauts used the “Display Keyboard,” or DSKY, to give the computer instructions.
The DSKY helped pave the way for modern-day computers.
#5 First Humans in Lunar Orbit
The Apollo 8 mission was the first time in human history people left Earth’s orbit.
Apollo 8 didn’t land on the moon, but the mission made the Apollo 11 landing possible by testing key technologies to reach the moon.
A giant rocket, a redesigned spacecraft, and a revolutionary new computer helped complete the 500,000-mile round trip from the Earth to the moon…and back.
Apollo's Daring Mission
Directed by: Kirk Wolfinger
Produced by: Sue Norton, Rushmore DeNooyer
Digital Producer: Ana Aceves
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018