Y-12’s impact on NASA Apollo 11 lunar landing with the ‘moon box’


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, NASA Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins launched from our planet Earth to man the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. The contribution to the historic mission made by Tennessee is not forgotten in what Y-12 made for it.

“The moon box had a lot to do with the transition that kept NASA and Y-12 engaged because at the time, they were really in need of this box and Y-12 could do it for them,” said Ray Smith, retired Y-12 historian.

The City of Oak Ridge has a huge connection between NASA, the Apollo Program and the Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container, also known as the “moon box.”

“Y-12 connected with NASA back in the early 1960s,” said Smith. “Because of that connection, when NASA came to go to the moon – they wanted a box to bring some of the lunar material back – they turned to Y-12 and said we need a box that doesn’t have seems, we want it to be a box that has just the fewest openings possible and we want it to seal so it will protect the lunar material.”

Engineers at Y-12 built the moon box out of a solid block of aluminum, so there were no corner seams, only the lid.

“And you’ll notice the metal straps that go across the top helped to seal that lid, and the handles are large so that the astronauts could open it with their gloves on,” Smith added.

The machining capability at Y-12 back in the ’60s was the best in the nation, and arguably still is.

“Here, 50 years later, they’re still working with that material that came back in the Y-12 moon boxes,” said Smith.

As the world watched, Smith says 840-pounds of lunar material was brought back through NASA’s six trips to the moon.

“I mean you can look at the moon through a telescope but you can’t examine the characteristics of the lunar material without having it in hand,” Smith said and had it not been for the moon box, “Couldn’t have done it. No.”

According to Smith, 16 moon boxes in all were made and are now scattered around the country in some of the nation’s most prestigious museums, including the Smithsonian where you can find the moon box from Apollo 11.

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