In Space: Northrop Grumman's Vital Role in Apollo Mission Success

July 20, 1969: A historic day for America. While the world watched, astronaut Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon. Years later, as the breathtaking success of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission is remembered and celebrated, several heritage companies of today’s Northrop Grumman are recognized for the vital roles they played in the achievement.

Lunar ModuleThe Lunar Module (or LM), the famed Eagle of the Apollo program, was designed, assembled, integrated and tested by Grumman Corporation, now part of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
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At its Bethpage, N.Y. facility, Grumman Corporation, now part of the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, designed, assembled, integrated and tested the Lunar Module (better known as the LM), the famed Eagle of the Apollo program. Between 1969 and 1972, six Grumman lunar modules carried 12 astronauts to and from the surface of the moon and one – Aquarius – served as a lifeboat for three astronauts during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Our Mission Systems and Aerospace Systems business sectors were formerly part of TRW, the company that developed the lunar excursion module descent engine (LEMDE) for the Apollo missions (photo below). As NASA’s official history of the Apollo hardware puts it, the LEMDE "probably was the biggest challenge and the most outstanding technical development" of the entire program. TRW also provided critical software for mission analysis and simulation, guidance and trajectory control, an abort guidance control, and a backup communications system.

Our Mission Systems sector, part of which was the defense and electronics business of Westinghouse, manufactured the camera used to broadcast the now famous images from the lunar surface to earth.

Lunar Module miniaturized black-and-white cameraInitially, the camera was attached to the modular equipment stowage assembly (MESA), which was lowered to a position off to the side of the module’s ladder. After Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon’s surface, the camera was placed on a tripod and moved to a location that would capture an overall view of activities. The engineer and the camera itself received television’s prestigious Emmy award. Read more about the history of the Apollo 11 Lunar television camera (PDF - 3.0 MB).

Two other companies that are now part of the Electronic Systems sector also made significant contributions to the mission. Dalmo-Victor designed and supplied the S-band 2-Gigahertz high-gain antennas that made possible the transmission of the live images from the moon's surface. Amecom Division of Litton Systems, Inc. produced flush-mounted antennas that transmitted and received all S-band signals during near-Earth operation and served as backup for the high-gain antenna in deep space. Four antennas were mounted on the command module.

Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine (LEMDE)Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine (LEMDE), which landed the first astronauts on the moon in 1969. (Photo Northrop Grumman archives)
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Legacy Northrop provided the earth landing system that included the space vehicle recovery parachutes for Apollo 11. In addition, NASA has used the Northrop-built T-38A Talon jet aircraft extensively as trainers for astronauts.

An event on July 17, 2004, sponsored by Aerospace Systems at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, N.Y., commemorated the 35th anniversary of Apollo 11. People who worked on the program were invited to attend, and speakers included Joe Gavin, a Grumman executive on the program, and Fred Haise, a former NASA astronaut and Grumman executive. Haise served as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 and 11 missions, pilot for Apollo 13, and backup spacecraft commander for the Apollo 16 mission.

Also as part of the 35th anniversary in 2004, the CBS television program "Up to the Minute" presented interviews with personnel from the original Grumman Lunar Module Team, whose efforts helped put man on the moon. Read the transcript.

Space Capabilities:

Space Capabilities

  • Since the dawn of the space age, Northrop Grumman has put good ideas into orbit and beyond. From systems engineering, spacecraft manufacturing, precision sensors, space instrument design, ground stations development and orbiting space platforms, Northrop Grumman's space capabilities have transformed lofty concepts into high-flying realities for a wide variety of missions. Discover More