Every Conversation That Happened During the First Moon Landing, Visualized

Nicholas Rougeux
Nicholas Rougeux

NASA’s transcripts from space missions can be incredibly colorful. During the Apollo 10 mission, a piece of poop that floated through the capsule sparked an argument over who did the doo (the answer is still unclear). During Gemini 3, pilot John Young revealed to his crew that he had smuggled a corned beef sandwich from Earth (“Smells, doesn’t it?” he remarked).

A new data visualization provides an interactive timeline for the transcripts from the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned trip to the moon and the origin of famous moments like “One small step for man …” Lunar Conversations, created by Chicago-based artist Nicholas Rougeux (who has previously visualized classic literature by its punctuation and turned sentences in famous novels into constellations), documents every transmission that was recorded during the mission, highlighting important moments and letting you see when the astronauts were most chatty.

The graphic visualizes each conversation as a bubble, with bigger bubbles corresponding to more verbose transmissions. The gray bubbles are the transmissions to Earth from space, and the blue bubbles represent things that NASA controllers on the ground said to the astronauts. When you hover on the bubble, you can see the transcript of what was said.

A poster version of the full visualization
Nicholas Rougeux

Rougeux writes on his blog that while most of the chatter was very technical, conversations “were very casual, including talk of munching on sandwiches, transmitting the daily news, and laughing about jokes.” The astronauts described what they saw around them, like “a rather remarkable cloud that appears in the vicinity of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan” and the powdery surface of the moon. Mission Control gave the astronauts updates on what was going on on the ground, including the results of the Miss Universe pageant and a House of Representatives vote on a tax bill. It also includes the phone call that the astronauts had with Richard Nixon after they had landed on the moon.

Reading through the transmissions is a good reminder of the humanity of now-legendary astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (really, who among us has not been late to answer a call because of “munching sandwiches”?) as well as just how much communication goes on between the astronauts and NASA’s team on the ground. The astronauts were in near-constant communication with Mission Control, and there are only rare gaps in the transcript. The astronauts were rigorously scheduled, with even their meals timed out. As a result, it can be difficult to single out specific transmissions, purely because there are so many of them.

You can explore for yourself—and buy it as a poster—here.

[h/t Flowing Data]

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Centre of Excellence
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Remembering Sara Little Turnbull, Whose Bra Cup Design Became the N95 Mask

Design innovator Sara Little Turnbull.
Design innovator Sara Little Turnbull.
Photo Credit: © Center for Design Institute

The coronavirus pandemic has made something of a celebrity out of the N95 mask, a particle-filtering face covering that’s long been used to protect wearers from inhaling or exhaling pathogens. (The “95” refers to the fact it can block 95 percent of airborne particles.)

Like most nondescript and pervasive products, not many people stop to think about where it came from. Now, owing to the attention placed on it as a key tool in the health care professional’s fight against coronavirus, the woman behind the mask has come to the forefront. Her name is Sara Little Turnbull, and she designed what would become the N95 based on the shape of a bra cup.

A design consultant, Turnbull was working with the 3M company in 1958 in their gift wrap and fabric division when she was exposed to Shapeen, a non-woven material made of polymers and used for decorative ribbons. Turnbull was fascinated by the molded version of Shapeen and devised the first-ever pre-made bows for gift wrap.

Turnbull didn’t stop there. She saw endless possibilities in Shapeen and assembled an audience of 3M executives to present a number of ideas she had for products—more than 100 in all—using the material. At the presentation, which she titled “Why,” she impressed 3M with the scope of Shapeen's potential. The company quickly enlisted her to work on a design for a molded bra cup.

But Turnbull had another, arguably more important notion. At the time, she was taking care of three ailing family members who were under the care of doctors. Turnbull was often in a medical setting and noticed health care workers were constantly adjusting thin masks that tied in the back. She returned to 3M with the idea of using that same molded material to make a mask that would fit more comfortably on the face.

Again, 3M saw potential in Turnbull’s idea. By 1961, they introduced a non-woven lightweight medical mask based on her concept, with elastic bands instead of strings, an aluminum nose clip, and a form-fitting "bubble" shape. (The bra patent was approved in 1962.) Though innovative, the mask couldn't block pathogens for medical use and was marketed for dust filtration instead. An improved respirator hit the market in 1972 that was suitable for other industrial purposes. As the mask’s filtration evolved, so did its usefulness. In 1995, the N95 respirator was introduced in the health care field, fulfilling Turnbull's original ambition.

Though Turnbull had been relegated to a nondescript part of 3M, she had an extensive background in design, graduating from the Parsons School of Design in 1939 and later becoming the decorating editor of House Beautiful magazine. After Turnbull wrote an article taking companies to task for not designing products suitable for the end user, she was hired by 3M. As a consultant, she also collaborated with Corning, Revlon, General Mills, and Ford, among others.

After Turnbull died in 2015, the Sara Little Turnbull Center for Design Institute was formed, which offers information to the public on the value of design and supports the efforts of disadvantaged women's design education. Turnbull's vast archive of material is available to view by appointment. A foundation in her name also provides educational grants. The “Little,” incidentally, was in acknowledgment of her height. At 4 feet, 11 inches tall, Turnbull wasn’t terribly physically imposing. But her contributions were gigantic.

[h/t NPR]