Apollo 11 | HR lessons from the first-ever moon landing

HR lessons from the first-ever moon landing

50 years ago this week, humanity did something that was previously inconceivable; it breached the bubble of earth and sent men to the moon.

The achievement was the work of over 400,000 space and aeronautics experts, and a collaborative effort with in excess of 20,000 companies, yet as the world gathered around their TV screens from July 16th - 24th 1969, just three – now-iconic – faces represented the blood, sweat and collective tears of a decade of effort on behalf of the American people.

HR Grapevine has collated five of the most powerful HR lessons from the inspirational actions of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins:

Lateral thinking 

It was science’s greatest achievement, yet on more than one occasion the lateral thinking of the team defined the success of the Apollo 11 mission. In one instance, it became obvious to Armstrong that the onboard computer of the Eagle Lunar Lander was going to set down the craft in a potentially dangerous spot.

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As such, Armstrong’s lateral thinking kicked into gear and he took control, eventually landing the Eagle safely on Tranquillity Base, in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity. In another, a rocket-launching switch broke inside the Eagle Lander. In several hours NASA had found no solution to the issue; Aldrin, on the other hand, pulled his pen out of his suit and jammed the tip into the hole, making the switch functional again.

HR’s lesson: Things won’t always go to plan. In fact, it’s best to anticipate that things won’t go to plan. We can’t account for every prospect, so it’s essential that HR is agile and thinks outside of the box to find the right solution to a new problem.


The process of preparing for the moon mission was gruelling for all involved – but especially the two men tasked with carrying out the plan whilst the world watched on. The astronauts were crammed into tiny pods and thrown into pools, made to attempt tasks whilst suspended on vertical surfaces and made to withstand literally inhuman levels of g-force and pressure. As men dedicated to their goal, they took it all with grit and determination.

HR’s lesson: Building an effective HR strategy is drastically less complicated than sending men to the moon, but it also takes a lot of determination to ride out the failures to get to the successes. It’s inevitable that you’ll be put through your paces but pushing through is just as important as celebrating the success.


If Armstrong was tasked with walking on the moon by himself, he would have been nose-deep in books on rocket propulsion and lunar schematics until the day he died. The Apollo 11 mission was the collective effort of nearly a whole nation of workers – from rocket scientists to military specialists and metal workers – to the average American, paying their taxes to provide the £19million ($24billion) that the project cost. And, of course, the collaborative bond between the three astronauts showed the world just how effective working together to achieve your goals can be.

HR’s lesson:  Unlike space itself, HR does not exist in a vacuum. To form an essential part of the business as a whole, and influences just about everything from cost, to profit and productivity. This means that to make it successful, HR must work together with senior management, finance and employees themselves to achieve its goals.

Practice makes perfect 

The unprecedented success of the moon landing was no fluke; every element of the mission, down to even planting the flag, had been practiced innumerable amounts of times. Collins’ extremely tricky manoeuvre to connect with the lunar lander in orbit looks simple in footage, yet the almost impossibly hard manoeuvre required hundreds of hours of practice. The astronauts tackled indoor reproductions of the lunar surface for months before the mission, whilst Armstrong himself nearly died in a rehearsal for flying the lunar lander.

HR’s lesson: It’s tedious and time-consuming, but we all know that there’s no other way to ensure success than to practice, practice, practice. This is true for HR professionals, but it’s also true for workers being upskilled and providing effective training for staff.


The Apollo 11 mission didn’t happen overnight; it was the result of a whole decade of hard work – and even the literal creation of NASA by President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1958. It was inconceivable then that in the space of ten short years, the US would go from having no investment in civilian aeronautics to literally placing humans on the moon. But with patience and hard work, they managed it.

HR’s lesson: Whether it’s to beat the competition, or simply to improve your own policies, you can’t expect to simply build your future in a day and expect it to work. Good HR, like all other worthy endeavours, takes time and above all else – patience.

Image Credit: NASA

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