Boeing

Space Needle: the beginning of Washington State’s role in Apollo and the U.S. space program

Hundreds of Washington-based employees contributed to the success of Apollo 11, sharing skills and expertise that ranged from building the rovers to leading research about space travel and greenhouse viability.

July 29, 2019 in Our Commitment

Starting with the 1962 Seattle World’s fair, Boeing has demonstrated a commitment to the future of space and innovation in Washington. Century 21, the fair’s theme, focused on science education and the Space Needle, the observation tower in Seattle. It is a landmark of the Pacific Northwest and an icon of Seattle.  At that time Boeing was already working on projects that would be foundational to the success of the space program.

In 1964, Boeing announced plans to spend more than $15 million on a space simulation center and other research facilities in Kent, Washington. When the facility opened in 1965, the company dedicated it as the Boeing Space Center. It was the headquarters for Boeing’s space division, considered by many to be the most advanced space research center in private industry. Lunar rovers, testing facilities for lunar orbiters, production of Saturn V rockets and more all took place in the Puget Sound.

Boeing manufactured many major components of Saturn V and Apollo rockets that took humans to the moon 50 years ago. Hundreds of Washington-based employees contributed to the success of Apollo 11, sharing skills and expertise that ranged from building the rovers to leading research about space travel and greenhouse viability.

“Like so many of my contemporaries in the aerospace industry, I was inspired by the space program and at an early age I set my sights on a career in aerospace,” said Mike Lombardi, Boeing Historian. “I would love to see this current and future generations of kids have the same opportunity to be inspired to have careers in what I consider humanity’s greatest endeavor.”

On July 25, 2019 King County Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to approve the City of Kent’s request to have the three Boeing Lunar Rovers, built at the Boeing Space Center in Kent and currently on the moon, registered as historic landmarks for the City of Kent.

In this video, Lombardi – at the Destination Moon exhibit at the Museum of flight in Tukwila, Washington – talks more about the contribution to space made by Boeing employees in Washington.

By Kimberlee Brattain and Tanya Nguyen