50 Years Ago, DE Company Helped Make Famous Moon-Walk Possible

  • July 19 2019

Success of Apollo Program Ushered in Digital Age

ILC Dover, LP (also known as ILC) is an American special engineering development and manufacturing company based in Frederica, Delaware. ILC specializes in the use of high-performance flexible materials, serving the aerospace, personal protection, and pharmaceutical industries.

Best known for making space suits for NASA, ILC outfitted every United States astronaut in the Apollo program, including the twelve that walked on the moon. ILC also designed and manufactured the Space Suit Assembly portion of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), worn by astronauts during performance of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) on Space Shuttle missions and on the International Space Station.

In 1965, ILC (then known as the Government and Industrial Division of the International Latex Corporation) was awarded the prime contract for the Apollo Lunar Space Suit, based on its unique approach to designing flexible joints in air filled suits. ILC successfully designed and manufactured the suit worn by astronauts in the Apollo program, including Neil Armstrong during the first moonwalk. The spacesuits were completely self-contained spacecraft, with room for just one: 21 layers of nested fabric, strong enough to stop a micrometeorite, but still flexible enough for the astronauts to move easily around.

When Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, he wasn’t just talking about his journey. The success of the Apollo moon landing 50 years ago, can be seen in the very age we live in now. The race to the Moon didn’t usher in the space age; it ushered in the digital age.

The space program in the 1960s did two things to lay the foundation of the digital revolution. First, NASA used integrated circuits—the first computer chips—in the computers that flew the Apollo command module and the Apollo lunar module. NASA’s demand for integrated circuits, and its insistence on their near-flawless manufacture, helped create the world market for the chips and helped cut the price by 90 percent in five years. In an era when even the batch-processing machines took up vast rooms of floor space, the Apollo spacecraft had real-time computers that fit into a single cubic foot, a stunning feat of both engineering and programming.

NASA also introduced Americans, and the world, to the culture and power of technology—we watched on TV for a decade as staff members at Mission Control used computers to fly spaceships to the Moon.

In 1999, as the century was ending, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was among a group of people who was asked to name the most significant human achievement of the 20th century. In ranking the events, Schlesinger said, “I put DNA and penicillin and the computer and the microchip in the first ten because they’ve transformed civilization.” But in 500 years, if the United States of America still exists, most of its history will have faded to invisibility. “Pearl Harbor will be as remote as the War of the Roses,” said Schlesinger. “The one thing for which this century will be remembered 500 years from now was: This was the century when we began the exploration of space.” He picked the first Moon landing, Apollo 11, as the most significant event of the 20th century.

Sources: Smithsonian.com and Wikipedia.org