Monday, April 18, 2011

North-East firms helped Nasa shoot for the moon

Yuri Gagarin became one of the most famous men on the planet when he orbited the Earth in Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961. Just over a month later, US President John F Kennedy, determined to regain the initiative for his country, told Congress: "I believe that 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."

Unbeknown at that time, foundations had been laid in the North-East to play a significant role in that adventure.

Some 35 years earlier, a young apprentice, Francis Thomas Bacon, had joined one of the North-East's largest employers, steam turbine builder CA Parsons, in Newcastle.

While at the firm, where he worked from 1925 to 1940, he became interested in the potential of fuel cells, devices using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, for pollution-free power.

As its commercial value wasn't then recognised, he initially began carrying out experiments at the firm in secret, unaware that his work was to play an integral part in putting Apollo 11 and US astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.

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