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Innovations in Space Exploration

Innovation on Display Behind the NIHF Scenes

As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum has unveiled a new exhibit celebrating not only the lunar landing but the NIHF Inductees who have contributed to space exploration.

Read on to learn about four inspiring inventors who have shaped our understanding of the universe.

Beatrice Hicks

Missions in space exploration, including Apollo 11, would not have been possible without the work of innovators like NIHF Inductee Beatrice Hicks.

A trailblazer who was among the first women to pursue engineering degrees, Hicks invented a gas density sensor that could detect the amount of gas, rather than just the pressure, within a container. This sensor activated a switch when the gas density reached a critical value, and this was an essential breakthrough in enabling space travel.

Hicks’ invention was used in the ignition systems of the rockets that launched NASA’s Apollo moon missions. When Apollo 11 launched in 1969, it was a three-stage Saturn V rocket, which used Hicks’ gas density sensor in its ignition, that helped make the first lunar landing a reality.

Max Faget

The Apollo program’s command and service module designs were derived from NIHF Inductee Maxime Faget’s groundbreaking design of the first space capsule, Mercury.

Faget achieved his most significant advances in capsule design while serving as the director of engineering at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Faget understood that a space capsule would need to withstand great gravitational force and friction upon re-entering Earth's atmosphere. His designs allowed for the spacecraft to slow down in the upper part of the atmosphere, resulting in reduced friction and G-force.

As the chief designer of NASA's spacecraft from Project Mercury through the space shuttle, Faget’s work was instrumental in the establishment and growth of the American space program.

George Carruthers

NIHF Inductee George Carruthers, who spent his career at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, invented the far ultraviolet electrographic camera, which obtained images in electromagnetic radiation in short wavelengths to study Earth's upper atmosphere, stars and gases.

This technology was first used in rocket flights to study stars in 1966, and it made the first discovery of molecular hydrogen in space in a 1970 flight.

Carruthers’ invention is best known for its use in the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. The instrument was placed on the moon in April 1972, and it remains there today. More than 200 photographs and spectra were taken from the Apollo 16 mission, providing us with the first global images and spectra of our planet’s far outer atmosphere, as well as images of stars, galaxies and interstellar gas, offering us a unique and valuable perspective.

Frank Cepollina

In the years since the Apollo missions, exploration beyond the moon has been driven by visionaries like NIHF Inductee Frank Cepollina, who developed the concept of modular spacecraft that could be serviced by astronauts while in orbit.

Cepollina’s work has allowed NASA to repair and upgrade Earth-orbiting spacecraft including the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits Earth every 95 minutes at more than 17,000 mph.

Having been serviced and upgraded by Cepollina's NASA team several times since 1993, Hubble has delivered an unprecedented number of major discoveries, from studying the outer planets and moons and exploring the birth and death of stars, to mapping the distribution of dark matter in space and observing the expansion and acceleration of the universe.

Learn More

To find out more about NIHF Inductees who have expanded our knowledge of space, we encourage you to explore our Inductee database.

We also invite you to start planning your visit to the NIHF Museum, where you’ll find our latest exhibit featuring artifacts from Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions.

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