Giant leap for mankind

When 50 years ago, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, a dream of mankind became reality. Optical glasses from SCHOTT helped capture this event in impressive images.

When 50 years ago, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, a dream of mankind became reality. Optical glasses from SCHOTT helped capture this event in impressive images.

July 21, 1969, 3:56 a.m. in Central Europe, July 20, 1969, 10:56 p.m. on the US East Coast: 500 million people around the world sat captivated in front of their television sets when the US-American Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, set foot on the moon. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” was the historic message he gave to the people on Earth at that very moment. 20 minutes later, camera images taken by Armstrong showed his colleague, Edwin Aldrin, also climbing out of the lunar module. The two astronauts spent over two hours on the moon and documented the events with television and photo cameras. These were the most spectacular moments of manned space flight.

Armstrong and Aldrin filmed the action on their moonwalk with this sort of Westinghouse lunar TV camera. It's lens is equipped with optical glasses from SCHOTT. The astronauts left the original camera on the moon. Source: National Air and Space Museum
Footprint in lunar soil
Footprint of an Apollo 11 astronaut in lunar soil. Source: NASA

Among others, it is thanks to SCHOTT that these pictures could be taken because the lenses of the cameras used were equipped with high-quality optical glasses, manufactured at the main plant in Mainz, Germany. Armstrong and Aldrin set up the American flag and scientific measuring equipment, tested motion under weightlessness, took soil samples and collected moon rocks. If someone today were to take a walk on the moon in the landing area, he could discover the film camera because the astronauts left these and other devices behind. This includes a laser reflector in which SCHOTT glasses were also used. At the heart of the reflector were 100 small special prisms made of high-purity quartz glass manufactured by the then joint venture company Heraeus-Schott Quarzschmelze in Hanau, Germany. Scientists were able to use this laser reflector to determine the distance of the moon to the earth as well as the earth’s and the moon’s diameters with an accuracy of plus/minus 1.80 meters.

This Hasselblad still camera was used in the command module of Apollo 11. With an almost identical camera Neil Armstrong shot the photos on the lunar surface. Optical glasses from SCHOTT in the camera lenses from ZEISS provided brilliant images. Source: National Air and Space Museum
laser ranging reflector on the moon
Laser ranging reflector with quartz glass prisms, which had been manufactured by Heraeus-Schott Quarzschmelze GmbH in Hanau, Germany. In the background the lunar module Eagle. With the help of the lunar reflector scientific measurements were carried out. Source: NASA

The American space agency NASA, which is always on the lookout for the best quality materials, has relied on optical glass from SCHOTT since the 1950s. It meets the highest requirements in terms of purity, homogeneity and freedom from striae and bubbles. The fact that NASA was increasingly interested in sourcing its materials from American companies played a key role in the establishment of SCHOTT’s Duryea production site in Pennsylvania. And so it is that SCHOTT Duryea is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, just like the Apollo 11 moon mission.

schematic presentation of optical glasses in camera
Schematic representation of a camera lens. The lenses of the TV and still cameras of the Apollo 11 moon mission were equipped with high-quality optical glasses from SCHOTT. Photo: SCHOTT
man handing over optical glass in crowd
Neil Armstrong (center), the first man on the moon, received an optical glass from SCHOTT when he attended a glider event on the Wasserkuppe mountain in 1970 during a visit to Germany. Photo: SCHOTT / Heinz-Jürgen Göttert

27. Juni 2019


David Schimmel
Advanced Optics