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8 Days to the moon - BBC series - Apollo 11 crew

8 Days: To the Moon and Back

The untold story of Apollo 11 told in the voices of the first men to step foot on the Moon.

About the programme

8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds. That’s the total duration of the most important and celebrated space mission ever flown - Apollo 11, when humans first set foot on the Moon. It was a journey that changed the way we think about our place in the universe. 

We've only seen a fraction of what happened during the first Moon landing - a handful of iconic stills and a few precious hours of movie footage. Now it’s time to discover the full story. Using dramatic reconstruction, declassified cockpit audio recorded by the astronauts themselves and film archive, this is the untold story of the first Moon landing. 

Original archive footage from the Apollo programme is combined with newly shot film and cinematic CGI to create the ultimate documentary of the ultimate human adventure. 

To find out more, visit the BBC programme page .

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Astronaut on the moon

Copyright: NASA - CC0

The moon, partially in shadow

To the Moon and beyond

Tara Hayden of the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University, explores the Apollo legacy and the future of human exploration.

20th July 2019 marks 50 years since Neil Armstrong took those historic steps that marked the pinnacle of human achievement to date. The Apollo 11 mission and those which followed demonstrated what humans could accomplish with sheer curiosity and determination.


The Apollo missions collected and returned approximately 380 kg of lunar rocks to Earth [1] where they are curated by NASA and allocated to approved scientific research projects. Over the past 50 years, the Apollo lunar samples have been studied in laboratories around the world using modern analytical techniques. From these studies, it emerged that lunar geology could be described in terms of two major rocks types: the anorthosites (named after rocks rich in a calcium-rich mineral called anorthite) that constitute the lighter areas (called Highlands) on the Moon’s surface as viewed in the night sky; and the mare basalts (named after rocks formed mainly of iron-rich minerals, which form through quick cooling of a lava) that represent the darker patches dotted across the Moon’s surface, originally named after the Latin ‘mare’ meaning ‘sea’.

Watch the video below as Tara Hayden discusses the structure of the Moon.

Future missions to the Moon’s poles are aimed at testing whether water ice is indeed present, as this could be a valuable resource. If we can extract water while on the Moon, this will reduce the payload that the crew must take on the outbound journey.

While investigating the Moon’s geology, scientists also looked for the presence of indigenous volatile elements in lunar samples. Volatile elements, such as carbon, nitrogen and water, are essential for life on Earth. In the interest of discovering if the Moon was ever habitable, quantifying its volatile element contents was of major importance. However, in the decades following the Apollo missions, scientists found little evidence of volatiles in the lunar samples.

Lunar agenda, taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station.

Copyright: Image is supplied by the European Space Agency and used for educational purposes. 

However, this all changed only a decade ago. In 2008, Saal et al.[2] published a paper reporting significant quantities of water in volcanic green glass beads that are formed when lava erupts energetically on to the Moon’s surface in fire fountain eruptions. This created a paradigm shift in lunar science and prompted the re-analysis of the Apollo collections using newer techniques. This led to the discoveries of substantial quantities of water in a variety of rock types, ranging from a few tens of ppm (parts per million) to up to several hundred ppm. This means that the interior of the Moon, could have significant quantities of water.

ESA impression of a Lunar base made with 3D printing pillars

Copyright: ESA/Foster + Partners

Prior to Saal et al.’s discovery, lunar orbiters were detecting signs of water ice at the Moon’s poles, in craters that are permanently in shadow [3]. Future missions to the Moon’s poles are aimed at testing whether water ice is indeed present, as this could be a valuable resource. If we can extract water while on the Moon, this will reduce the payload that the crew must take on the outbound journey.

In order to extract water on the Moon, however, we will need technology capable of doing so. Indeed, there is ongoing research to produce such an instrument. It is anticipated that the next decade will witness a successful application of this technology which can be replicated for future crewed missions and perhaps even for developing a future Moon base.

From 1-7th July 2019, the Open University joins four other institutions to showcase an exhibit entitled ‘Living on the Moon’ at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London. We will be providing the public with the chance to see, touch and feel Moon rocks, learn about the ongoing scientific research about the Moon, and experience what it would be like to live on the Moon. We look forward to meeting lunar enthusiasts and discussing the exciting future of lunar science!

Margaret Hamilton in the Apollo Command Module (NASA)

Margaret Hamilton: Spaceship Programmer and Software Pioneer

Without the work of the lead Apollo flight software designer, Margaret Hamilton, the Eagle would not have landed on the Moon.

Margaret Heafield Hamilton (17 Aug 1936-present) was born in Paoli, Indiana (Welch & Lamphier, 2019). After high school she studied mathematics at the University of Michigan and graduated with a BA in mathematics and a minor in philosophy from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana in 1958. In 1959 she began work in the meteorology department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for Professor Edward N. Lorenz, the pioneer of chaos theory, programming early computers to predict weather. She had to learn her trade hands-on as no taught software courses existed and among her credits, she promoted the term “software engineering” to provide legitimacy to the science and set it on a par with other types of engineering (Cameron 2018).

Between 1961 and 1963 Hamilton worked as a programmer on the US Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defence system at MIT’s Lincoln Lab (Mindell 2008) and this is where she became interested in and learned much about the reliability of software (Spicer 2017), being able to make a previously inoperative radar system actually work. As Hamilton said: “I was and still am very interested in what causes errors and how to avoid them throughout. That was one of my very first experiences in this regard… from day one, it’s been a fascination - the subject of errors…” (Hamilton 2001).

Margaret Hamilton and her navigation software

Margaret Hamilton and her navigation software. Public domain.

It was this fascination and her expertise in systems programming that later made Margaret Hamilton the perfect candidate for the position of lead Apollo flight software designer. Rather than return to study for her PhD at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, she joined MIT’s Instrumentation Lab (now the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory), which was at that point working on the Apollo space mission (Creighton 2016), and in the summer of 1968 she began writing software for the program.

Her programming skills led to her promotion to head of the Apollo Software Engineering Division, where she and her colleagues wrote and developed code for the guidance and control systems of the in-flight command and lunar modules of the Apollo missions (McMillan 2015; Spicer 2017). In the process, Hamilton and her team established the nuts and bolts of modern software engineering, resulting in the creation of what she termed “ultra-reliable software” for the Apollo 11 mission. This included priority displays in emergency situations, where the software alerted the astronauts and allowed them to reconfigure systems in realtime.

Hamilton also set up firm constraints on components and subsystems engineering, debugged and tested everything before assembly and ran systems level simulations of every imaginable condition to identify potential problems; only then would she release the code (Rayl 2008). 

Margaret Hamilton in 1989

Margaret Hamilton in 1989. Public domain.

Hamilton focussed on system error detection and data recovery in a computer crash at a time when it was very difficult and laborious to identify and fix errors (Ceruzzi 2016). Her work was crucial as it turned out: just minutes before touchdown of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, a documentation error resulted in computer overload. Hamilton’s software recognised the error situation and rejected extraneous tasks to re-establish its priority – landing Eagle on the Sea of Tranquillity (Hancock 2014). Hamilton had already fought hard (and lost) to include user-error-checking in the code, an omission that almost led to the failure of Apollo 8 (Mindell, 2008).

Hamilton worked on the software for all the Apollo manned, and a few of the unmanned missions, Skylab on-board flight software and initial system software requirements for the Space Shuttle (Katz 2010, Hancock 2014, Spicer 2017). Her rigorous work during the Apollo missions that resulted in the creation of the foundations of modern software engineering were to become the bases for her Universal Systems Language (001AXES) and Development Before the Fact (DBTF) formal systems theory (Spicer 2017).

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

Copyright: NASA

In 1976 Margaret Hamilton co-founded Higher Order Software where she applied her skilled methodology to defence projects. In 1986, she left HOS to found Hamilton Technologies, to accelerate the evolution software technology and to direct her advanced systems to complex projects for commercial and defence purposes.

Margaret Hamilton has published over 130 papers, proceedings and reports and has been involved in 60 projects and in 6 major programmes (Katz 2010). She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships for her outstanding achievements. In a conference presentation in 2004, Hamilton said of software engineering: “Apollo was and still continues to be the catalyst for how it got started and how it continues to evolve.” (Hamilton 2004).

Meet the OU expert

Mahesh Anand The Open University
Professor Mahesh AnandProfessor of Planetary Science and Exploration - School of Physical SciencesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Mahesh Anand The Open University
Professor Mahesh AnandProfessor of Planetary Science and Exploration - School of Physical Sciences

Mahesh's research is about understanding the origin and evolution of water and other associated volatiles in the Solar System. In order to address these questions, he leads a team of researchers comprising of PhD students, postdocs and international collaborators to analyse samples from Moon, Mars and asteroids for their elemental and isotopic composition using modern analytical instrumentation.

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