Astronaut Ed White, first American to walk in space, c. 1965 | Courtesy NASA

A Space Odyssey: Southern California Spearheads Mankind’s Greatest Achievement

The triumphant and tragic Space Race unfolds in the first-hand accounts of those who pioneered the technology and built the hardware that made possible mankind’s greatest achievement. Meantime, the military-industrial-complex expands unchecked. “A Space Odyssey” chronicles the first-hand accounts of the men and women who made that “giant leap for mankind” possible.  When President Kennedy made the famous pledge to land a man on the Moon by decade’s end, no one at NASA thought it possible.  It took the combined efforts of nearly a half-million workers at hundreds of companies in nearly all fifty states.  But the lion’s share of research, development and manufacturing occurred in Southern California.  Apollo’s Command Module, which carried astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the Moon and back, contained approximately 1 million pieces that needed to be designed, manufactured and installed by workers at North American-Rockwell in Downey, California.  All the while, the Department of Defense, had funded a parallel space program designing and deploying reconnaissance satellites to spy on the USSR, the People’s Republic of China among other adversaries.  Defense contractors such as Southern California-based Northrop, Lockheed, Hughes and Rockwell International, prospered with foreign sales of aircraft and artillery but sometimes engaged in corrupt business practices, forcing Congressional oversight.  Unmanned exploration continued at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with missions to Mars, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus, sending home extraordinary photographs of planets in our solar system.

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