MIT Lab Engineers in a Drafting Room

Drafting the Apollo Missions

Drawing our way to the moon landing.

When Americans thought about what landing on the moon would actually look like they had little to feed their imagination. Artists, illustrators, and space engineers were tasked with creating a physical representation of something no one had ever really seen. Without the use of computer modeling, CGI, or 3D printing, NASA employed a team of people who used pencil and paper to create all of the technical diagrams and marketing imagery to push the ideas of the Apollo missions forward.

Early in its history NASA established their own Artist’s Cooperation Program where some of the finest artists of the generation were invited behind the scenes to create an immediate resource and lasting legacy of what they were doing. The list of artists includes Norman Rockwell, Robert McCall, Fred Freeman, and Robert Rauschenberg who all participated in the program.

From these works of fine art to the daily tasks of drafting detailed sketches of every piece of machinery, the Apollo missions depended on the accuracy and usability of this artwork. Everything began with a creative idea and an initial design. For the team at Draper labs, that meant designing and building a navigation system to complete the moon landing.

Charles Draper credits his Lab’s success to this combination. He wrote “while powerful space vehicles and rockets provide the environment and thrust necessary for space flight, they are intrinsically incapable of controlling or guiding themselves on a mission as complicated and sophisticated as Apollo. The great achievement of this Laboratory was to supply the design for the primary hardware and software necessary to solve the Apollo guidance, navigation and control problem. It is to the credit of the entire team that this hardware and software have performed so dependably throughout the Apollo program.”

The images below represent a range of some of the vivid iconic imagery that helped the American public understand the enormity and ambition of the Apollo missions.