In a special address to Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented the following challenge:
"...this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
And, with those words just shy of 50 years ago, President Kennedy put in motion the most ambitious and challenging technological project in the history of mankind.
This milestone was met on July 20, 1969, a mere 8 years after the call to action. Here's an abbreviated time line of the U.S. Space Program with a few key milestones.
I marvel at the complexity of the program, the number of contractors and sub-contractors who were involved in this program spread out all over the U.S., and the limited tools available during the 1960s:
• mainframe computers
• drafting boards, vellum and chlorine-based blueprint machines for making copies of drawings
• slide rules
• U.S. Post office/ground delivery services
• telephone: certainly point-to-point calling; I don't know if/how audio conference calling was accomplished in those days.
This technological achievement happened without the comforts of business we enjoy today:
• email and email attachments
• instant messaging/chat
• desktop computers
• smart phones
• Internet connectivity or wireless technology
• the Internet
• web conferencing
• audio conferencing
• video conferencing
• document scanning
• electronic document repositories
• computer-aided design and engineering tools
• overnight package delivery services
• numerically-controlled fabrication tools
• Microsoft Project [Just kidding! I don't know of a complex project that has ever been brought in on time or on budget using MS Project.]
This absence of tools and technology makes putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth back in the 1960's all the more remarkable. How did they do it? The TV mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (produced in 1998) offers interesting insights—I recommend it highly.
I'm going to speculate that had the space program had the benefit of these commonly-accepted collaboration technologies today that things would not have happened even marginally faster. People made this happen just as people make projects happen today.
Is this mankind's greatest technological achievement and a superb example of superior business execution? I think so. What do you think?
Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. He can be reached through his website at > www.gardnerandassoc.com or via Twitter > Gardner_Dave.