How Timken Technology Helped Move the Space Program Forward
Jul 17, 2019

Well before Neil Armstrong found his bearings on the moon with one small step and a giant leap a half century ago, our bearings were working to help get him and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew there.

When Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface July 24, 1969, Timken® bearings were running the inertial guidance system on the Lunar Exploration Module that carried them to that historic moment. The momentous achievement represented the culmination of more than two decades of our collaborations on the space program. And an estimated 650 million people watched it live on televisions around the world.

Our work on the space program dates to the very beginning of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. Timken supplied the split ball bearings used in the horizon sensors on the very first spacecraft for Project Mercury, signifying NASA’s entry into the space race. The bearings were instrumental on Mercury-Atlas orbits around the earth in 1962. In fact, the company that made the sensors marveled at how our bearings withstood the rigors of space travel and even the ones recovered after landing in the Pacific Ocean were fully functional.

In 1963, NASA turned to us once again to supply tapered roller bearings for use on simulators designed to replicate a moon landing. Specifically, the bearings were used in a supporting arm that attached to the cockpit and moved the vehicle like it was travelling through space.

To help NASA build a rocket powerful enough to reach the moon, Philadelphia Gear, which we acquired in 2011, delivered four roll-ramp actuators to support test firing of the Saturn V rocket in 1967. These actuators were mechanical drives that served as clamps to hold the rocket down during the static test-firing activities.

In 1969, Torrington, which we acquired in 2003, supplied single-row tapered roller bearings and cylindrical roller thrust bearings and ball bushings for two giant crawler transporters built to move the Apollo spacecraft and its mobile launcher to the launchpad. Each tank-like transporter weighed in at 5.5 million pounds.

The astronauts traveled to the moon and back to earth aboard the Apollo 11 command module, which served as their mother ship. To protect the lunar travelers from the vacuum of space, the module was equipped with a door that included six Fafnir® bearings in its latch assembly.

Timken bearings were also equipped in the transmissions on the helicopters that safely moved our astronauts back to ships and returned the command modules for further evaluation.

We’re honored to have been part of the team that helped a fledgling NASA program rapidly advance from a start-up to the point of putting men on the moon. From the beginning, we have been—and continue to be—a trusted supplier to the U.S. space program. From Mercury to Mars, Timken bearings have helped explore the universe. We’ve helped improve the performance of shuttles, the space station, all Mars rovers, Voyager I and II, GPS satellites, and the Hubble and Webb telescopes. And, we look forward to continuing to innovate alongside NASA to keep our world (and, perhaps, others) in motion well into the future.

Timken® and Fafnir® are registered trademarks of The Timken Company.  

Wayne V. Denny, Jr. is general manager of strategic marketing for The Timken Company. Named to this position in 2015, Denny is responsible for driving marketing strategy and developing actionable market plans for precision industries, including Aerospace, Medical, Machine Tool and Automation.