Celebrating the Moon Landings of 1969 with (perhaps) the computer scientists of tomorrow
23 Jul 2019
- Marion O'Sullivan



This month marks the 50th anniversary of when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz" Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the moon. 

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

​​​Buzz Aldrin​


In celebration of that great achievement, STFC has been holding a number of creative, fun and educational events across all its sites in the UK. 

Fifty years ago history was made, but it would not have been possible without the efforts of software engineers like NASA's Margaret Hamilton, who was responsible for the on-board flight software on the Apollo 11 computers. Despite having only 64 Kilobytes of memory, the Apollo Guidance Computer was the revolutionary, cutting-edge technology of its day and the fore-runner of today's modern laptops and smartphones.

​Computational scientists and software engineers are at the heart of ​many important scientific breakthroughs today, so staff in the Scientific Computing Department at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire, ​​have been leading activities to encourage and inspire school children to be tomorrow's computer scientists and software engineers.​


Around 1,400 people came to RAL for the Apollo@50 events and the children and teachers were able to hear about the moon landings and handle space rocks and meteorites, including some of the moon rocks which the astronauts brought back. Many of the school groups also had the chance to learn basic programming techniques using Beebots (little bee robots) and Lego Mindstorms, or walk amongst the racks of computers, supercomputers, and tape robots in our scientific data storage and machine rooms.  

​The STFC Public Engagement team and our own staff, many of whom are STEM Ambassadors, report that feedback from the children at these events has been very positive, with one youngster announcing that “Planets are cooler than bunnies!"  

The only thing cooler than planets, of course, are the computers….

Contact: O'Sullivan, Marion (STFC,RAL,SC)