Initially, the computer on the lunar module had 33 kilobytes of memory. Today’s computers have millions of times more. A beefed up version doubled the memory to 66 kilobytes. “Once we got that additional memory, we had no trouble putting digital autopilot into that additional memory,” Dr. Gran recalled.
Fifty years ago, as Apollo 11 made its way to the moon, the people who built the spacecraft followed with pride and some nervousness.
When the lunar module, named Eagle, was finally on the moon, Dr. Gran said, “Then I jumped up and down. It’s like winning the lottery.”
Others were also elated, but had more yet to worry about. The parachutes of Charles Lowry were still packed, waiting for the return to Earth. That development was more arduous than first anticipated, as the command module had gained weight during its development. The parachutes had to successfully slow down 13,500 pounds.
But four days later, on July 24, 1969, the astronauts returned to Earth. The parachutes deployed, and Mr. Lowry could celebrate, too.
“It was,” he said, “an amazing feeling of ‘Yeah, we really did it.’”
The Downey and Bethpage sites have faded into history. Grumman emptied its Long Island headquarters after it was bought by the Northrop Corporation in 1994. North American, which merged with Rockwell International, later designed and built the space shuttles. In 1996, the aerospace piece of Rockwell was sold to Boeing, which abandoned the Downey site in 1999.
“That was really hard, to watch them tearing down not just history,” Mr. Blackburn said, “but removing a major part of my life.”