On July 24, 1954, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) at Stump Neck, Maryland (now the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Maryland) sent and received the first human voice transmission to be bounced back to Earth from the Moon. Moon bounce, also known as Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communication, is a technique that sends radio wave transmissions from Earth to the Moon.
In our exhibition Time and Navigation visitors can set their watches by a working cesium frequency standard, commonly known as an "atomic clock." Before the clock was installed, we needed the frequency standard to be calibrated to the national reference time at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.
I recently shared that we uncovered handwritten notes and markings inside the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia—the spacecraft that carried astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin into lunar orbit and home on their historic voyage of July 1969. As part of our collaboration with the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office to create a detailed 3D model of the spacecraft, we had access to previously inaccessible areas for the first time in many years. We found notes written on a number of locker doors and even a small calendar used to check off days of the mission. We did our best to imagine the circumstances surrounding the creation of these markings. In the weeks that have passed, I have been working with an extraordinary team of experts to see what we can learn about each of the markings we documented, especially the more technical numerical entries. Today, we are posting the Apollo Flight Journal (AFJ) website, a detailed account of all the information we’ve gathered so far.
Given the enormous popularity of GPS among civilian users, and the critical applications for the military, it is not surprising that a large body of literature has arisen about the origins of this remarkable technology. The curators of the new Time and Navigation exhibition discuss this history, and we have illustrated it with a few select artifacts, such as the engineering model of the Navy’s NTS-2 satellite, one of the key demonstrators of the technology that led to the deployment of the GPS constellation.
Last week, the Museum recognized the 50th anniversary of Telstar, the first “active” satellite (one that can receive a radio signal from a ground station and then immediately re-transmit it to another) and the first technology of any kind that enabled transatlantic television transmissions. In 1962, both accomplishments generated intense interest, excitement, and commentary.
Our lives are enhanced by technologies developed through the research and development supported by the necessities of spaceflight. NASA has documented since 1976 more than 1,300 technologies that have benefited U.S. citizens, improved our quality of life, and helped to advance the nation’s economic welfare. Of course, much has been made over the years of what NASA calls “spin-offs,” commercial products that had at least some of their origins as a result of spaceflight-related research. Most years the agency puts out a book describing some of the most spectacular, and they range from laser angioplasty to body imaging for medical diagnostics to imaging and data analysis technology. Spin-offs were not Tang and Teflon, neither of which was actually developed for the Apollo program.