Anyone that was alive to witness it happen on live TV in 1969 knows how the moon landing changed history in an instant: for the first time ever, human beings were communicating between a planet and its natural satellite. Nothing has been the same since! Or has it?
Some skeptics wonder how the moon landing changed the world, considering there wasn’t really much there besides rocks and soil. There are still plenty of conspiracy theorists that think that NASA’s Apollo moon landing program was faked (nope). What, really, are the effects the moon landing has had on contemporary life? What did we really learn up there?
The simple answer: a ton. Moon landing effects include innovations in safety, technology, medicine, geology, paleontology, oceanography, and much, much, more. Read on to learn more on how the moon landing shaped modern life.
Helmets from the Apollo Program Led to Better Running Shoes
Rapid improvements in athletic shoe technology in the 1980s and ’90s can be directly traced back to the technology used in Apollo-era lunar helmets and visors. A process called “blow molding” gave Apollo lunar helmets superior impact resistance in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the process was used to create footwear. AVIA Group International, Inc. created the AVIA Compression Chamber midsole using blow molding. The midsole can be subjected to 400 miles of running without showing any structural fatigue.
It Gave Us the Theory That an Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs
It seems unlikely, but the moon landing helped scientists theorize that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a giant asteroid 65 million years ago, a theory that informs our current ideas about their extinction and the later rise of mammals. How? Well, the Apollo program helped scientists recognize the chemical and physical signs of “hypervelocity impact,” meaning they now know what rocks and landforms on Earth look like – even millions of years later – following an impact of that magnitude. It turns out that the lunar surface is an excellent testing ground for scientists to research what an asteroid’s impact can do to landforms.
It Made Computer Chips Commercially Viable
You may be unfamiliar with the term “integrated circuit,” but chances are you’re reading this sentence with the help of one. Commonly known as a “computer chip,” integrated circuits were made commercially viablethanks to our mission to the moon. The Apollo program was the largest consumer of computer chips from 1961 to 1965 and the rapid development of the technology helped to pave the way for personal computers. NASA didn’t invent them, but it put them on the map and encouraged their development.
It Gave Firefighters and Race Car Drivers Liquid-Cooled Garments
Firefighters and race car drivers ( among others) who use liquid-cooled garments to keep cool and safe have the moon missions to thank. The technology was developed by NASA for astronauts to wear under their suits in space. A battery-powered mini-pump circulates chilled water through a network of tubes in the suit, eliminating 40 to 60 percent of stored body heat. It’s also used by children born with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (meaning they were born lacking sweat glands to keep them cool).
It Made a Strong Case for the Superiority of Democracy
This one is a bit abstract, but some of the brightest minds of the time made one hell of a case for it and plenty of people still think it’s true: America landing on the moon demonstrated the strength and superiority of the democratic system. The United States beat the Soviet Union to the moon at a time when the Soviets were a “belligerent and expansive power” in the Cold War (to quote NASA pioneer Paul D. Lowman Jr.).
This inspired Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov and two of his colleagues to write an open letter to the Soviets citing the American moon landing as evidence that democracy is the way to go. Landing on the moon in 1969 didn’t end the Cold War, but it did demonstrate America’s technological prowess and boundless ambition (the Soviets had a big lead in the “space race” when President Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon in 1961).
It Expanded NASA Considerably
For the moon landing to be viable, NASA needed a huge financial and structural boost. Thanks to that boost, NASA is what it is today, despite its budget being scaled back considerably. NASA’s current infrastructure and continuing innovations were sparked by the mission to the moon. Roger Launius, Space History Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, explained that NASA’s huge growth in the 1960s is still being “fed” and kept alive in the 21st century and will likely continue to be, largely thanks to influential congressmen fighting to keep jobs in their districts.
It Helped Develop a Ton of Cordless Products
Cordless vacuums, drills, and phones are now common in homes across the globe, but they might not have appeared in homes as soon as they did without the Apollo moon landing program. NASA worked with Black & Decker to create a portable, cordless drill to gather rock and soil samples from the lunar surface. The drill had to be lightweight, battery-powered, and have minimal power consumption. Black & Decker later used the knowledge and experience gained from the project to create the Dustbuster, cordless drills, and a whole lot more.
It Made Canned Food Safer in the US
NASA worked with Pillsbury to create some of the first “space food” later used in the Apollo moon landing program. Part of the work was making the food as safe as possible. Pillsbury developed something called the “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point” (HACCP) concept which was designed to prevent food safety issues before they occurred. The FDA later incorporated the HACCP concept to ensure the safety of all canned food products in the US. So thank the moon landing for your next can of SpaghettiOs!
It Ignited the Environmental Movement
The first full-color image of Earth from the moon played a part in inspiring the pioneers of the environmental movement to dedicate their lives to protecting the planet. The very first Earth Day took place in 1970, just months after the moon landing, inspired in part by the first glimpse of the Earth shining brightly amid utter blackness. The planet looked so fragile and vulnerable that people we now call environmentalists were inspired to preserve it. The pic even landed on the Whole Earth Catalogue, an icon of the environmental movement.
It Paved the Way for Detailed Global Maps of the Ocean Floor
Landing on the moon not only helped us learn more about the lunar surface, it also helped us to better understand the ocean floor here on Earth. The Apollo missions spawned Landsat, the program responsible for all the awesome satellite imagery of our planet you see used in countless applications every day. But Landsat also helped scientist to better understand the ocean floor deep beneath the waves. The detailed maps we have today of the sea floor are all thanks to technology created to get man on the moon.
It Gave Us Lifesaving CAT Scans and MRIs
The digital image processing technology developed by NASA for its Apollo missions is used today in countless applications. Few are as valuable, however, as the lifesaving body imaging techniques known as CAT scans (computer-aided tomography) and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). CAT scans are used to produce an image of an internal “slice” of the patient’s bones. MRIs are used for soft tissue such as livers and other internal organs. Both aid doctors in detecting issues that help them save lives every day.
It Gave Soldiers Freeze-Dried MREs
The MRE, or “Meal, Ready-to-Eat,” is used today in military field rations as well as by survivalists looking for food that will stay edible without refrigeration. NASA created the first freeze-dried concoctions to feed astronauts in space during the Apollo missions that landed us on the moon. The Apollo program differed from previous missions because astronauts had hot water available to them so they could re-hydrate food easily. It wasn’t until Skylab in 1973 that astronauts could take advantage of refrigeration.
It Gave Us a Better Pacemaker
Apollo-era technology is responsible for the development of programmable pacemakers. Earlier designs delivered a fixed stimulus to patients once implanted. Thanks to innovations that helped land a man on the moon, however, doctors today can “tweak” pacemakers to suit the changing needs of their patients. Doctors use wireless technology to “communicate” with the pacemaker in a way that previously wasn’t possible.
It Gave Us Better Insulation for Our Homes
Foam and foil insulation used in 21st-century buildings was created by NASA for the Apollo moon landing program to protect astronauts and spacecraft from radiation and heat. You’ve likely seen it at Home Depot or Lowes: shiny foil sheets with a core made from propylene or mylar meant to keep your home insulated from the elements. The same techniques were also used for a variety of other industries. Candy wrappers, reflective safety blankets, and photographic reflectors are just a few products created with the Apollo-era technology.
It Gave Us Better Life Rafts
During preparations for the moon landing, NASA determined that the life rafts used in return ocean landings would become unstable when helicopters approached to pick up the astronauts. NASA developed a safer, more stable life raft and secured a patent for it. Inventor Jim Givens struck a deal with NASA to piggyback on that patent and create the Givens Buoy Life Raft, which is still used today to protect and save lives during extreme weather at sea. If the Coast Guard ever saves your life with a Givens raft, thank the Apollo missions!
It Helped Develop Credit Card Swipe Devices
If you enjoy not having to carry cash everywhere you go, technology developed to get man on the moon is partially to thank. The software used to run those ubiquitous credit and debit card swipe devices you see in basically every retail store and restaurant in America has an ancestor in the software used in the Apollo missions. NASA developed the software to manage a complex series of systems on space capsules. Years later, it’s distant relative changed the way we shop forever.
It Made It Easier and Cheaper to Clean Swimming Pools
Apollo-era NASA technology used to sterilize water on long-duration spacecraft was later utilized to clean swimming pools. The technology allowed consumers to clean their pools without using chlorine or bromine. The process involves copper ions to kill algae, making the water safe enough to drink! It also costs less than using traditional chemicals. The technology is used throughout the world at hotels, spas, and health clubs, as well as in fish ponds and fountains.