To the Moon and Beyond: Technicians Make it Happen

Professor Chris Mutlow is Director of RAL Space, a department of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the UK’s national space laboratory. 50 years after man set foot on the Moon for the first time, Chris reflects on how technicians make space exploration possible.

50 years ago 400,000 engineers, scientists and technicians came together to put two men on the surface of the Moon. While most of us may now only remember the names of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, the astronauts who made that journey, they would never have got there without the men and women working behind the scenes.

The same is true now in the space sector. In the UK alone there are nearly 42,000 people working in the space industry. The majority of us will never go to the Moon but many of us work on equipment that will leave Earth’s atmosphere.

At RAL Space we do everything from design, build and test instrumentation for spacecraft. Our technicians, as with the Apollo missions, are a crucial part of this and we are lucky to have a team with a variety of highly specialist skills.

Angela is part of the team who makes blankets for spacecraft. Before she worked in the space sector she was a keen crafter. Now she turns her creativity and incredible attention to detail to cutting patterns, sticking and sewing the layers of specialist shiny materials used to insulate satellites and make sure they can function in the harsh environment of space.

Mike started his career as an apprentice in our Precision Development Facility (PDF) and now, 15 years on has skills that few other people in the world have. He and the PDF team specialise in the manufacture of the precise components required for spacecraft and satellite instruments. Mike works with scientists and engineers to develop designs that he can then machine to tolerances as close as 0.005mm, around 1/20th of a human hair.

Joe’s job, on the other hand, is to test spacecraft to make sure they will survive the rocket trip. The team operate the facility where instruments and spacecraft are shaken on a vibration table to make sure they won’t break and that all the delicate instruments inside will operate perfectly when they arrive at their destination.

Our technicians are building on the work done 50 years ago. They, like all of us working in the space industry, take immense pride in the fact that equipment they have built and tested may now be in orbit around the Earth or even on the surface of other planets. They’re motivated by the same thing that motivated humans to land on the surface of the Moon 50 years ago – their work is helping expand our knowledge of the Earth and our universe.

 

To learn more about what it's like to be a Technician at RAL Space, read Liam's story, here

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