On July 20, 1969, over half a billion people tuned in to watch Apollo 11's historic landing on the Moon, setting a new record for live television.
But what viewers didn't see that day were all of the test landings conducted at NASA's Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF), which had made that final "giant leap" such a resounding success.
Completed in 1965, the LLRF was used by both astronauts and engineers to simulate the final descent stage of a lunar touchdown, and it contributed immeasurably to the success of the Moon landings.
Since then, the LLRF has been repurposed and renamed the Landing Impact and Research Facility (LandIR), and is currently in use as a crash and splash gantry. In other words, this is the place to go to smash up fancy aviation and aerospace equipment, then figure out what the outcome means for future missions.
NASA just released a fantastic retrospective of the facility's 50 year history, charting its origins as a practice ground for Moon landings, to its modern function as a kind of demolition derby for outer space research.
The montage is a lot of fun to watch for the crashes and splashes alone, but it also puts into perspective how much preparatory research goes into space exploration. Launches and touchdowns are worthy of celebration, but LandIR demonstrates that these final flourishes are part of the larger story of developing reliable spacecraft, which at times can be delightfully messy.