The Lunar Module that landed the Apollo astronauts on the Moon had two stages, a descent stage for the landing and an ascent stage for the departure. If rocket engine on the descent stage failed during landing the crew could fire the ascent engine as a backup to safely return them to lunar orbit – it essentially served as an ejection seat for the landing. But once the astronauts were on the Moon, if the ascent engine didn’t fire when it was time to leave, there was no backup and the astronauts would perish.
That rocket engine, that could not fail, was designed and manufactured by men and women from Western New York at Bell Aerospace right here in Niagara Falls. We have two of them in the Niagara Aerospace Museum. One of several aspects of the design that were key to its reliability was a series of eight valves controlling the flow of fuel and oxidizer into the engine, arranged so any one of the valves could fail and the others would still be able to start and stop the flow, no matter what. One of our engines at the museum is completely accessible to visitors – you can walk right up to it to examine these valves and trace the fuel and oxidizer flow with your fingers. Please visit us and do it!
Contributed by Walter Gordon