Fiber can help humans land on the moon


Neil Armstrong's words crackled Aluminum mylar through […]

Neil Armstrong's words crackled Aluminum mylar through the speakers at  Mission Control in Houston, signaling that men first touched down on the moon.The Eagle lunar landing module was one of the world's most important engineering achievements. The key challenge: to keep it as light as possible.Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., later Grumman Aerospace Corp., designed and built the lunar lander at its facility in Bethpage, N.Y., under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

It was first of six lunar landers built for the Apollo program. Grumman beat out nine other companies for the contract.According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, before the program ended, more than 3,000 engineers and 7,000 other Grumman employees hand built 13 full versions of the craft.Little was known about the lunar surface when construction began in 1962, so the engineers designed cantilever landing gear consisting of four leg assemblies, each ending in a dish-shaped landing pad, so the craft could land safely and remain upright on a variety of surfaces.What would later be named the Eagle measured, with its legs extended, 23 feet high and 14 feet across.

Don Rosato, a plastics industry veteran, was then a young materials engineer at Grumman, working on composite lunar modular struts for the lunar lander, among other Apollo-related projects.Rosato said that originally, four composite lunar module struts were fabricated by Grumman and the Hercules Powder Co., later part of Ashland Inc., from boron from AVCO Specialty Materials and epoxy  to save weight while retaining high strength.But he said NASA ultimately returned to more traditional, heavier aluminum struts on.

Remembering the tragic Apollo 1 cabin fire that killed all three astronauts on a launch rehearsal test on Jan.  composites were deemed potential flammability threats from outgassing, Rosato said.Rosato said boron/graphite epoxy composites were used as leg inserts on three of the later moon flights, Apollo 14, 15 and 16. The cylindrical inserts were fabricated by pressurizing a nylon bag inside a metal tubular female mold using filament-wound cross plies and longitudinal tape layers, he said.Rosato said Grumman was his first plastics industry job. He worked under George Lubin, who was Grumman's chief materials scientist. Lubin, a pioneer in advanced structural composites, was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1982.Rosato was a boy when the Russians sent up Sputnik in 1957, starting the space race. That was something he had in common with other young engineers who worked on the Apollo project.