Celebrating Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, its impact on today’s eco industry, and what’s ahead
By Sari Custer
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Most of us know these words, but have you ever truly stopped to think about them?
These were astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words on July 20, 1969, as the Apollo 11 crew became the first humans to successfully be rocket-propelled off the Earth and land on the Moon. This was the United States’ crowning achievement of the Space Race, and the answer to President John F. Kennedy’s bold call for “longer strides” which “may hold the key to our future here on Earth.”
That one small step out of the Eagle lunar module was part of a broad lunar program that marked huge leaps in the quest for discovery, led to technological advancements, and resulted in some rather amazing—and surprisingly familiar—sustainable products and inventions over the last 50 years.
Among the technologies we trace back to the Apollo program is freeze-dried food. One of the most famous freeze-dried foods developed for the Apollo program is the novelty we know as Astronaut Ice Cream; however, contrary to popular belief, it never actually made it off the planet.
However, the technology of this specialized dehydration process has not only made some of our modern breakfast cereals more interesting, but revolutionized relief efforts, aided in disaster preparedness, and increased the transportability and shelf life of our food, providing an option for decreasing food waste due to natural spoiling and potentially saving billions of dollars.
Have you ever wondered why some hikers and runners wrap themselves in foil blankets? It has nothing to do with repelling alien body snatchers, but everything to do with maintaining body heat.
This shiny material actually got its start as a NASA development used in the Apollo program. The reflective, vacuum-metallized film is a lightweight, yet highly efficient insulating material, which made it great to use to combat the temperature extremes encountered during space missions. According to NASA, this tech was so efficient, it is now used in common home insulation, including wall coverings and window shades, to help regulate home temperatures, which can reduce daily energy use.
Solar Panels and Water Filtration
The Apollo program made strides in advancing solar panel technology, spun off the use of Teflon-coated fiberglass from use in space suits into use as a cost-effective green building material, and dominated the tiny-living movement before it was even a thing (the Apollo crew compartments were only just over 200 cubic feet!).
But one giant leap of the Apollo program can be found in advancements in water filtration.
Innovations in water filtration included finding new ways to control microbial contamination of water in space, which inspired safer, lower-chemical methods for controlling pollutants in water on Earth.
As water is critical for survival, modern-day bioengineers have had to look critically at how humans live in space and have built new processes based on observations from previous missions like those of Apollo. The International Space Station, for example, now has a closed-loop system that captures all astronaut wastewater—urine, sweat, and even moisture from their breath—and then filters and recycles it into potable water for drinking, bathing, and even re-hydrating their freeze-dried meals.
Now, before you get too grossed out, this water is probably cleaner than what we regularly drink out of our taps, and the system is a solid model of water recycling that can be employed to maintain sustainable sources of clean water here on Earth!
The Next Steps
As we look to the future of human space exploration, NASA’s two-phase Artemis program is expected to return humans to the moon, including landing the first woman on the moon, by 2024.
Not since the Apollo program have we set foot on another celestial body, or even sent humans beyond low Earth orbit at all. This will be the first crew to surface the moon since 1972, and as put by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay.”
Through Artemis, NASA and a growing host of partners intend to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028, setting us up for the next giant leap: Mars.
NASA scientists have recently discovered unexpected sources of water in the form of ice on the Moon’s poles, but even so, space remains a desert, and every drop must be recycled and reused. Additionally, this ice represents a potential source for fuel which, combined with new research and technology, could take humans further from Earth for longer periods of time than ever before. This gives a whole new feel to “locally sourced” goods, but by developing affordable and reusable systems on and around the Moon, astronauts can test the technologies we need to explore Mars in the close-approaching 2030s.
When we as a species consider leaving the safety of our blue planet, it will be to improve the survivability of humanity, and to challenge ourselves to literally explore new horizons and drive societal progress. Space exploration inspires discovery, drives scientific progress, and pioneers sustainability within our society. Spin-off technologies that come out of space exploration have the potential to change the world for the better and pave the way for a more sustainable future on this planet and the next.
Anniversary Celebration Events
Arizona Science Center is celebrating one of the greatest human achievements in science—the 50th anniversary of humans’ first steps on the moon. All month long, the Science Center will commemorate the historic mission with events and space-themed programming. Visit and celebrate the accomplishments and small steps of the past, while looking forward to the exciting discoveries and giant leaps that are yet to come.
Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Celebration includes the following events and programming:
Tues., July 16 | Global Rocket Launch Day
- 10 a.m.–5 p.m.: Rocket building and launches in CREATE at Arizona Science Center®
- 5–9 p.m.: Observe the Moon Family Night
Fri., July 19, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. | Apollo 11 Anniversary Family Celebration
Fri., July 19, 6–10 p.m. | Science With A Twist (adult 21+ event)
Sat., July 20, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. | Continuing Apollo 11 Anniversary Family Celebration
Sat., July 27, 6–10 p.m. | Teen Night at CREATE
*Events subject to change
The Arizona Science Center is located at 600 E. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004. Information and tickets are available at www.azscience.org/apollo11
Sari Custer is chief scientist at Arizona Science Center, which will serve as mission control for Arizona’s biggest Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Celebration.