When NASA formed in 1958, it needed the best people it could get – and in the Fifties and Sixties, Britain, which retained its own rocketry and
space programmes, probably had more experts in the field than any other Western nation outside the States.
Throughout the late 1950's Keith Wright, for example, had been working at Hawker Siddeley Dynamics on trials of the Europa rocket – the European
derivative of the British Blue Streak ballistic missile, which was later cancelled by the Macmillan government in 1960.
By the mid-Sixties, Wright went to work for the Bendix corporation where he was responsible for checking out the scientific packages before and during
their installation in the Apollo lunar module
Other Britons had been working for the American space programme since the Fifties.
Peter Armitage, for example, was able to turn his knowledge of aircraft flight testing to the recovery systems for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo
spacecraft. In 1969, he was asked to take over management of NASA's Landing Test Vehicle programme.
Britons, Thomas Chambers worked on the Apollo guidance computer; Norman Farmer on the lunar rover's communications system; while John Hodge took the
seat of flight director at Mission Control in Houston, later made famous by Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 near-disaster.
It is perhaps timely, at this 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, that one Englishman, Francis Thomas Bacon, should be afforded more
recognition for his own, hugely significant part. Bacon had been working, during the Thirties, as an engineer at C A Parsons, based on Tyneside,
England and pursued an interest in developing hyper efficient fuel cells.
by 1959 a a US R & D outfit had noticed one of Bacon's published articles on the fuel cell, and took out US licences on his patents. Come Project
Apollo, and Nasa's need to develop a reliable electrical power source for the spacecraft, the Pratt & Whitney division of United Aircraft was able to
work up Bacon's designs and so bid successfully for the Nasa contract.
over the next few years, working with Pratt & Whitney, a workforce of 1,000 people – and $100 million of Nasa's money – Bacon's team succeeded
in producing a set of cells that worked faultlessly.
Richard Nixon, Kennedy's successor, was forthright in his appreciation for what Bacon had done. During a meeting between the two, Nixon put his arm
around the Englishman's shoulders and admitted: "Without you, Tom, we wouldn't have gotten to the Moon."