Giant Leaps: MIT Goes to the Moon

June 10 – September 13, 2009

Ask anyone who was at MIT in the 1960s and early 1970s about the Apollo program and they will tell you where they gathered on campus to watch launches, landings, and splashdowns. People all over the world were watching but at MIT, many had much more at stake. In the face of Americans’ shock following Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight on April 12, 1961, the following month President John F. Kennedy spoke to a joint session of Congress challenging the nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.

Just three months later on August 9, 1961, NASA awarded MIT the contract to do just that: design and develop the guidance, navigation and control system for Apollo. In the coming years, MIT made many extraordinary contributions to the American space program from gyroscopes and computer programs to exceptional engineering talent that guided key decisions and programs for both NASA and private industry. 

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and in celebration of MIT’s pioneering contributions to the Apollo, the MIT Museum in collaboration with the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., created this showcase of historic artifacts and images. The museum is grateful for Draper Laboratory’s financial support of this project.