1960s -  Cannon Takes a “Giant Leap” into the Space Market

This year marks the 100th anniversary of ITT’s Cannon brand of connectors.  In our fifth installment of this decade-by-decade brand history, we travel back to the 1960s when Cannon products helped propel space exploration – and keep Presidents and plane passengers up to speed with the fast-changing landscape.

During the 1960s, the world seemed to put its collective foot on the gas.  In a dizzying number of areas – music, technology, fashion, transportation, exploration, politics – change came fast and old boundaries disappeared.  In the rush to the next new thing, our Cannon connectors were an instrumental part of this exciting ride.

Nowhere was the speed of this decade more evident than in “space race.”  In the United States, two famous phrases act as bookends that illustrate how incredibly far and fast the national space program progressed.

In 1961, President John Kennedy stated, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

By 1969, that man – Neil Armstrong – was standing on the moon and wowing the world with his words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

TV microphones and moon landings

Both the President and the astronaut were aided by our Cannon brand connectors.  Kennedy, who has been called the “first TV president,” used a new unidirectional microphone – equipped with our Cannon UA audio plugs – to pick up the sound of audience members and reporters asking questions, enabling them to be heard on stage (and later by TV audiences) without having to pass around a microphone.  This Cannon-powered microphone was on stage at many of his election campaign events and was onstage during his first-ever televised press conference in 1961.

Cannon plugs not only helped Kennedy hear his audiences – it made it possible for the U.S. to realize his “man on the moon” vision.  Throughout the 1960’s our connectors were used on the unmanned missions that led the way for Armstrong and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew to become the first-ever humans on the lunar surface.  On the 1966 Surveyor and the 1967 unmanned Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) missions, a variety of our power-connecting plugs helped the spacecraft perfect soft-landing techniques, survey potential Apollo landing sites and use robotic shovels that determined the depth and characteristics of the moon dust to ensure astronauts could land safely.

By the time the historic Apollo 11 mission delivered astronauts to the moon, our Cannon team had developed connectors for a wide variety of space-age applications.  Our Cannon CM power connectors were inside the Lunar Excursion Module that detached from the rocket and landed Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon.  Other connectors supported the systems that relayed two-way communications through from the spacecraft to Earth.
And a special Microminiature K (MK) connector was developed for the Primary Life Support Systems (back packs) that Armstrong and Aldrin wore in space and on the moon.  The MK connected wires in the biochemical system that monitored the astronauts’ pulse rates and heart beats.  The back packs had to protect their wearers against micrometeoroid impacts and extreme temperatures, so our connectors were designed to pass strict tests for vibration, shock, temperature and other reliability issues.

Since the astronauts left their back packs behind – and none of the Surveyor craft came back to Earth – it means our Cannon connectors are still on the moon today.  The success of the U.S. space missions made Cannon a valued partner to NASA.  We were awarded the NASA Medallion for distinguished service for our role in the first manned lunar landing, and our connectors have been a part – and in many cases the predominant connector supplier – of every free world space mission. 

Cannon on the Concorde

While our connectors were helping to bring the universe to our doorstep, they were also making distant cities seem like next-door neighbors.   In 1969, an issue of the ITT Cannon Connector newsletter ran a story titled “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s SuperPlane” that focused on tests of the supersonic Concorde commercial airliner.  Being developed jointly by British and French aerospace manufacturers, this amazing plane was set to become operational – and change the way people looked at flying – by the early 1970s.  In the story, Norm Schoenfeld, Director of Product Management for the project, says, “This will be the first time, flying faster than the speed of sound, you will be able to leave Los Angeles, fly west to Hong Kong, and arrive before you leave.”

Cannon had a number of pieces of equipment on the prototype plane.  There were Cannon firewalls, microminiature connectors and circular connectors coming from our manufacturing and distribution sites in Great Britain, the U.S. and France. 

“Reliability is the keyword on the Concorde,” said the article.  “If the plane becomes certified and operational, it will be a real tribute to bi-national management and engineering know-how.”

 The plane did become operational in 1976. For nearly three decades it was the fastest commercial aircraft in the world, flying from Europe to the U.S. in half the time of other planes and – with Cannon products on board – earning a reputation as an aviation icon and engineering marvel.  
Click here to view a video called “A Century of Amazing Connections” that outlines the milestones throughout Cannon’s history.