The All-Bell Lunar Module Ascent Engine
Development of the Apollo Lunar Module Ascent Engine (LMAE) was awarded to Bell Aerosystems largely due to the unprecedented reliability of the Bell Agena family of rocket engines.
The LMAE was an extremely critical element of the Apollo program as there was no backup. When the astronauts pressed the button to launch, it had to work. And it did – every time. This met the part of President Kennedy’s speech where he said “…and return him safely to the Earth.”
An all-Bell LMAE was flown in LM-1 on the Apollo 5 unmanned mission that flew in Earth orbit on July 22, 1968. The engine performed flawlessly, including the “fire-in-the-hole” test that simulated liftoff from the lunar surface as well as an abort of the lunar descent phase where the LMAE was ignited while still attached to the LM descent stage.
A hybrid Lunar Module Ascent Engine was ultimately used for all the Apollo lunar missions that used an injector head designed by Rocketdyne.
The museum is fortunate to have friends like Logan Jaeren, a space mission patch expert and creator of the website Space Exploration Patches.
Through his extensive network, Logan was able to procure an original Apollo 5 patch and has loaned it to the museum for display. Note that the patch was not an official NASA patch, but rather one created by the employees at Grumman, the company who developed the Lunar Module.
You can view an interesting talk Logan held for the museum’s Apollo 13 event on April 15, 2023, about mission patches with fascinating details on the Apollo 13 patch.
You can read more about the Lunar Module Ascent Engine and other Western New York contributions to the Apollo program in this excellent paper.
You can also see two Lunar Module Ascent Engines at the museum.