For Proving Risk Management and Out-Of-This-World Ambitions Can Make the Impossible Possible (Most Influential Projects: #2)
PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA
On 20 July 1969, the world watched in awe and disbelief as U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong slowly bounced across the moon's surface. It was one small step for man and one giant leap for project management.
Long before NASA launched that 6.2-million-pound (2.8-million-kilogram) rocket and capsule, the U.S. space agency's astronauts and mission control specialists went through bruising physiological and psychological testing, technical training and mission simulations. The repetition helped them identify and prepare for potential danger from blastoff to splashdown.
Anything less than flawless execution could have meant deadly consequences. Just two years before, three astronauts were killed during a launch rehearsal in a command module, leading NASA to make 125 design and safety changes that helped ensure Apollo 11's success. Nearly every system and procedure required a backup, and even systems that passed with flying colors still went through second-party audits. A problem-solving matrix ensured a troubleshooting protocol existed for any scenario.
As NASA chief historian Roger D. Launius put it: “It may be that the most lasting legacy of Apollo was human: an improved understanding of how to plan, coordinate and monitor the myriad technical activities that were the building blocks of Apollo.”
Apollo 11 sparked other monumental moon missions in the past 50 years:
1970: USSR's Lunokhod 1 delivers the first robotic rover to explore the moon.
1973: U.S. module Mariner 10 studies the moon en route to Mercury and Venus.
1990: The Hiten orbiter becomes Japan's first moon mission.
2003: The European Space Agency launches its first moon mission, SMART-1.
2007: China launches its first lunar mission, Chang'e 1.
2008: India launches its first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1.
More than 1,600 innovations grew out of the Apollo space program and NASA—touching everything from mattresses to mobile phone cameras.
The entire Apollo program inspired me. The main objective of the program was delivered successfully and on time, despite the crash of Apollo 1 in 1967. Overcoming that major setback required vision, leadership and true grit. Apollo also had an omnipotent program office with centralized authority over design, engineering, procurement, testing, construction, manufacturing, spare parts, logistics, training and operations. That structure helped them overcome the complexity of this initiative—and the massive numbers of stakeholders to manage, including all the subcontractors. Last but not least, it took real teamwork to solve challenges, like getting the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth after an oxygen tank explosion.
I was born in 1961. My grandmother used to read to me Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. Then we later watched the landing together on my family's black-and-white TV in my home of Argentina. Putting a man on the moon in 1969 has inspired me to understand how and why it has been achieved.