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Apollo 11 and its technological legacy

IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.  Here they discuss the impact that technology used in the Apollo 11 lunar landing is still having on the tech industry today

This summer, we witnessed the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – a huge milestone in space exploration for humankind. The spotlight was firmly on how the industry has changed since then. Indeed, there was much room to consider how technology has evolved since the Apollo 11 mission and how these early innovations have influenced technical developments today.

With Space-X, Blue Origin and other key players set on commercialising space-travel, concerns around how these companies and their ‘products’ will ensure the safety of their passengers have arisen. Achieving these goals requires consumer trust in both the company and ultimately, the technology. Customers will only buy into these new frontiers if they are ensured of their own safety.

In an IEEE survey exploring public sentiment around the moon landing, respondents were questioned on the mission’s technologies and their impact on society today, as well as the potential commericalisation of space in the future. It found that more than half of those questioned (53 per cent) were keen to experience space travel, showing demand for the nascent market. However, when questioned on their thoughts on unmanned space shuttles – directed via artificial intelligence (AI) – an overwhelming majority of respondents (79 per cent) indicated they would feel safer if the shuttle was piloted by a robot that looks and communicates like a human.

As artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, it will become fully capable of point-to-point space travel and unmanned shuttles are likely. However, the stumbling block currently is public trust and education. The consumer still feels more comfortable around anthropomorphic robots, even if the real technology lies far below the façade.

Apollo 11’s influence on current technology

The original Apollo 11 mission signified an important moment in human history, of both humankind’s explorative and technological achievements. The Apollo 11 shuttle relied on four computers considered to be decades ahead of their time. The technical devices involved in creating and assembling the original space shuttle, can be seen in our present world. Each item – from rudimentary coding and software, the foundations of early probe communication, to basic structural devices – can be traced to the tech products and consumer devices we use today.

In the same study, researchers explored Apollo 11’s influence on devices today. When questioned on which items can be traced back to early space travel technology developments, the top three identified most frequently by respondents were the solar panel (65 per cent), athletic shoe (40 per cent) and heart defibrillator (32 per cent). Whilst others identified the cordless vacuum (28 per cent), mattress (19 per cent) and home security system (18 percent). The breadth of answers is testament that the technological community recognise the importance of aerospace tech, as well as the influence it has over future devices.

Future space travel and technologies

The correlation between aerospace technologies and future developments is incremental and as space is explored further it will require more technologies capable of doing so, which will, in turn, shape future devices. As sectors become increasingly reliant on technology – for example, cloud technologies and health data, AI and the workplace, blockchain and finance – it raises the question where aerospace technologies will lend themselves next?

Considering this, experts were questioned on which sectors would be most heavily influenced by future space technologies. Survey respondents indicated they believe that the next decade of space travel will have the greatest impact on medicine (26 per cent), transportation (23 per cent), computer technology (21 per cent) and environmental resources (20 per cent). With the proliferation of 5G communication and AI, it is of no surprise that consumers can foresee these applications within their future.

Many groundbreaking technological innovations have roots in the original Apollo 11 landing. Going where no person has been before required next level thinking, technical devices that would ensure the astronauts’ safety and safe return, as well as maintaining a constant line of communication between Earth and the crew. Many of the lessons learned by the Apollo 11 team will be utilised in the next venture to commercial space travel. However, before we embark on consumer space flights, humankind must be assured of the safety of this technology in order to trust it fully and open up to the next space chapter.

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