Apollo History Gallery
Apollo Space Program
North American Aviation was the prime contractor for the Apollo Space Program.
Downey's Space & Information Systems Division was the "shop" and plant where Apollo was born.
Over 25,000 people worked in and around the Space Division at Downey, CA during the 1960's.
"In 1961, in an attempt to rally enthusiasm for space exploration as a national priority, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation calling for a new effort aimed at “placing a man on the moon and returning him before the decade is out.”
To accomplish this goal, NASA put out a two bids for space program contracts. The first was for the Saturn S-11, the second stage of the Saturn V Launch Vehicle designed to send multi-ton payloads into space. The second was for the Project Apollo Spacecraft Development Program, comprising the command module and service module. North American won both awards, and in so doing, made Downey the industrial center for America’s lunar space program.
To support the Apollo program, NASA established the Resident Apollo Spacecraft Office (RASPO) at the Downey plant. During the peak of the Apollo program, the number of resident government and support contract personnel (including astronauts) was over 300.
Employment at the Downey site grew rapidly, as well. At its peak in the mid 1960s, the NASA Industrial Plant, Downey (as it was officially renamed in 1964) supported more than 35,000 workers". Columbia memorial Space Center in Downey. More here...
"The Downey missile operation, now advertising itself as the Space & Information Systems Division, proposed and was accepted as a qualified bidder for the Saturn S-II launch vehicle system, the massive mid-stage for a family of NASA super booster concepts for launching multi-ton payloads into space. The Saturn S-II was the richest prize so far to be offered in the ordained National Space Program and it was integral in the Apollo space vehicle which would essay the lunar mission. The S&ID proposal team, a coupling of seasoned Navaho engineers and newcomers from other North American divisions submitted its bid and in September 1961 the space agency selected S&ID as the SII contractor. The Downey plant was suddenly in the forefront of space plans. It would survive; it would even grow some. The winning of the Saturn S-II prime contract also forced a tough business decision, for while the S-II proposal had been in submittal, S&ID was preparing a bid for the Project Apollo Spacecraft Development Program, encompassing the man-carrying command module and attached service module. The Apollo Spacecraft program engendered the greatest technological task in history." Cradle of the Cosmic Age, Russ Murray
"The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Six of the missions (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) achieved this goal. Apollos 7 and 9 were Earth orbiting missions to test the Command and Lunar Modules, and did not return lunar data. Apollos 8 and 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography of the lunar surface. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but also returned photographs. The six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments." Wiki
"More than 500 contractors worked on both large and small aspects of Apollo. For example, the Boeing Company was the prime contractor for the first stage of theSaturn rocket, North American Aviation for the second stage, and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation for the third stage. The Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation was responsible for the rocket engines and International Business Machines for the instruments. These prime contractors, with more than 250 subcontractors, provided millions of parts and components for use in the Saturn launch vehicle, all meeting exacting specifications for performance and reliability." NPS
“It was a wondrous opportunity to be part of something historical. We just had a hard time comprehending what it would mean to other people, what it would mean to ourselves.” – Buzz Aldrin
"Those of us who were lucky enough to have seen Apollo 11, and who remain privileged to shepherd its memory, might, as Americans, think of ourselves as part of the “we” who were first the Moon and of the “we” who came in peace. But we were observers, not participants. We watched it, we supported it, but we didn’t make it happen. A tiny sliver of Americans were involved hands-on. It was theirs.
Ours is what remains unfinished in the mission." More here...
Remembering the Apollo 1 Crew
"Like they did for every mission phase, astronauts trained for transposition and docking such that when it came time to extract the LM it looked and felt as familiar as the simulator. But on Apollo 14, CMP Stu Roosa couldn’t get the spacecraft to stay together. Going in for the docking he said that “everything looked just real fine coming in on it. I'd say the - the whole docking operation was Just so much like the CMS [simulator] that it was hard to believe.” He guided the CM slowly to the LM going about 2/10th of a foot per second, but when the docking probe hit the drogue it seemed to bounce back.
Knowing the spacecraft hadn't firmly docked, Roosa backed up and tried again, this time going a little faster at one foot per second. Which felt fast; he told mission control it looked as though he was “going to run right through the thing.” But even with more speed the result was the same. The latches didn’t catch and the CM kind of bounced back away from the LM.
Instead of ramming the CM into the LM again and again to try and force a connection, Roosa backed up and conferred with ground crews in Houston about what might be going wrong. Under Houston’s advice he tried again with the same result. The CM bounced off the LM. But there was something different. After this third attempt Roosa noticed shallow scratches on the LM drogue assembly. Describing them to Houston, ground crews confirmed that the marks came from the cocked latched scraping against the drogue. So the latches were in the right position for a docking, they just weren't locking for some reason". Popular Science
"Before that “giant leap for mankind” 40 years ago today, a hundred-thousand small steps guided American astronauts toward the moon. Many of those steps originated in the Southland. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde has this story about how the Apollo 11 command module got to the Smithsonian Institution via the moon... and Downey, California." More here...
Blackburn: "When we won the contract to go build Apollos, nobody had ever done that before. And so there was no book on the shelf that you went to and said here’s how you build a spacecraft. We had to start with building cardboard models.
So we actually built full-scale mockups, they are called, out of cardboard and wood to see, well, what would it look like, and how big would it be, and how would you get in, and where would the switches and panels be, where do the windows go?" More here...
Apollo's Home Base- North American Rockwell in Downey, California
Apollo Space Program Downey, California
Southern California's Aviation and Aerospace History
America's Aviation and Aerospace History