The International Effort Behind the Apollo 11 Mission

The successful Apollo 11 Mission and the landing of the first men on the Moon was a distinctly American triumph. Although the bulk of the credit rightfully goes to the nation behind the mission, other countries also made extremely valuable – and often overlooked – contributions to it.

The Apollo 11 mission that landed men on the moon for the first time is often considered an American enterprise, and for good reason. Americans funded the effort, an American agency managed and executed the mission, and it was American astronauts who manned the mission. Although the bulk of the credit rightfully goes to the nation behind the mission, other countries also made extremely valuable – and often overlooked – contributions to it.

Canadians working at NASA and in Longueuil, Quebec played important roles in the mission. James Chamberlin of Kamloops, British Colombia in particular helped to decide on the type of spacecraft that would put men on the moon, pushing successfully for a lunar orbit rendezvous. This ultimately resulted in the development of the lunar module, which would descend to the lunar surface and then reconnect with the main spacecraft, which itself would not land. Another Canadian, Owen Maynard, also played an important role, effectively serving as chief engineer of the lunar lander.

America’s northern neighbor’s contributions to the mission were not limited to the roles of individuals. Héroux Machine Parts Limited, a Canadian company, made the landing gear legs that were put on the lunar module. One could even say that the first legs on the lunar surface were Canadian, not American.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary and the contributions of the Canadian nation, the Royal Canadian Mint has released a series of stunning domed coins.

Outside of the United States, perhaps no nation made greater contributions to the Apollo 11 mission than Switzerland. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Omega Speedmaster chronographs, products of Biel, served as the astronauts’ timepieces on their mission. Aldrin used his while working on the surface of the moon, and the “Moonwatch” continues to be manufactured today.

One of the first things that Buzz Aldrin did upon emerging from the module was to set up the University of Bern’s Solar Wind Collector experiment (SWC). This was the only non-American experiment to be performed on the moon. The astronauts brought the piece of aluminum foil back to Earth with them, and it was examined at the Physics Institute of the University of Bern. The information gathered from the experiment taught scientists more not only about our solar system, but also about the Big Bang. These two important contributions are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Swiss contributions to the mission.

While the mission itself was critical, its impact on Earth could only be maximized through transmissions that enabled the entire world to witness the historic event. Credit for that goes to site in Australia, in particular Honeysuckle Creek. The site was originally a backup to Tidbinbilla, but a fire at the latter shortly before the mission caused NASA to lose confidence in that site. Accordingly, it was Honeysuckle Creek that received and relayed the first footage of man setting foot on the moon. The tracking station closed in 1981, but its vital role in the Apollo 11 mission will forever be remembered.

The Royal Australian Mint and the United States Mint partnered together for the first time to release an unprecedented 2-coin set featuring one Apollo themed coin from each Mint.

A German scientist also proved critical to the mission, although his dark past makes many reluctant to celebrate his contributions. Nazi engineer Wernher von Braun came to the United States following the Second World War. NASA made the most of his expertise, making him the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. He would go on to serve as the Saturn V launch vehicle’s main architect. That vehicle propelled the mission to its target.

Perhaps the most international element to the mission was a disc carrying goodwill messages from the leaders of 73 countries including four American Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Among those sending goodwill messages were such noteworthy leaders as the Republic of China’s Chiang Kai-shek, India’s Indira Gandhi, Iran’s Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, Queen Elizabeth II, and Pope Paul VI.

Although the Apollo 11 mission was clearly a triumph of American ingenuity and technical prowess, it would be folly to overlook the important contributions of countries and individuals from around the world. From science and technology to media and messages of unity and hope, contributions from around the world helped to make the mission a success. As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the mission, be sure to take a few moments to reflect on the magnitude of the accomplishment, especially in light of the fact that man’s first flight of any kind was taken less than a century before the mission.

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