Apollo at 50
In May 1961, President Kennedy reached into the 21st century and
pulled a decade back into the 1960s. Just over eight years later,
Neil Armstrong became the first of twelve people to walk on the Moon.
This was one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of all time,
and a transcendent human experience. This course will draw on both
primary and secondary sources to explore the social, political,
financial, scientific, engineering, operational and human aspects of
the Apollo program that came together to make the Moon landings
possible and it will invite students to reflect on the limitations of
the Apollo approach that leave us still grasping for solutions to many
other complex societal problems.
- Understand the interplay between political, economic, social,
scientific, technical, and practical factors that made the
Apollo program both possible and challenging.
- Develop an appreciation for the degree of complexity involved
in an undertaking of this scale, the processes that were used
to manage that complexity, and how well those processes worked.
- Apply what you have learned to help you think about what's
similar and what's different in the approaches that could be
taken to address other exceptionally challenging problems.
The class will meet in person Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 to 6:15
PM in ESJ 0215. Each class will begin with a live presentation by the
instructor (or occasionally by a guest speaker), followed by
discussion between students in small groups, and then by a mix of
additional presentation and interactive full-class discussion led by
The small group discussions will occur in groups of 6 to give
students an opportunity to engage with each other and with members of
the instructional staff to discuss specific aspects of the topic for
that session, drawing on material they have read or viewed in
preparation for that session and on the instructor's initial
In the final session of the semester, students will meet with each
other, and with members of the instructional staff, to discuss drafts
of their term papers that they exchanged the previous week.
The course is designed so that students can complete all course
activities (preparation for each session, participation in sessions,
and assigned projects and papers) in 8 hours per week; students should
plan their schedules to have that much time available.
There are three major assignments:
One reading (e.g., a book chapter) must be completed in advance of
each session (it will take an hour, and yes, there is a quiz!). Class
participation is graded. There is no final exam.
- Case Study. In this assignment you will write a 2-3 page paper
about an individual who was working on Apollo, or on something related
to Apollo. You will work individually on this paper.
- Mission Control Team Project. In this assignment you will
create a Website or write a 3-5 page report (your choice) for the
public about how Apollo Mission Control handles one event during an
Apollo mission. You will work in teams of 2-3 on this project,
which requires actually listening to recordings made in Mission
Control during the mission.
- Term Paper. Having studied an individual and an organization
in your first two assignments, the focus of your third assignment
will be on societal challenges such as global warming, cancer, or
COVID-19. You will work individually to write a 4-6 page paper in
which you analyze the factors that must be considered when crafting
solutions to a substantial societal-scale problem of your choice
(note, however, that the problem you select must meet specific
criteria, and must be approved in advance).
An overview of the course is available in the draft
Questions can be sent to the instructor, Doug Oard, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: Sun May 30 14:03:52 2021