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As we salute the Apollo 11 moon landing, a look back at McKinsey’s work with NASA

Moonshot. Today, we assign that term to any number of big and bold ambitions, but it wasn’t that long ago when the word was used to describe one thing and one thing only: a chance to take humankind forward in a single, seemingly impossible, “giant leap.”

This weekend, our firm joins the rest of the world in saluting NASA and the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, which over July 20 and 21, 1969, saw the Apollo 11 Lunar Module touch down on the moon and Neil Armstrong become the first person to set foot on the lunar surface.

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Apollo 11 begins its flight to the moon on July 16, 1969.

We also use this occasion to look back at the tremendous opportunity we had to work with the organization.

In the early 1960s, NASA asked our firm to help determine how best to use industry and private institutions in its work, including what the division of labor should look like between government and industry for the burgeoning space program. We also reviewed and evaluated the organizational plan and nature of the institution’s prospective operations.

Around that time, McKinsey also began work with NASA’s Space Task Group, the organization charged with managing manned spaceflight programs beginning with Project Mercury, the United States’ first human-in-space program.

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An astronaut at work during a spacewalk.

Working with the Space Task Group and other areas of the agency, McKinsey was privileged to help NASA both develop its unique organizational structure and make better use of its research capabilities.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, our firm was actively involved in the development of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, helping the agency’s Space Transportation System adopt lessons from the business world that would help an organization built for research and development learn how to thrive.

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, McKinsey was actively involved in the development of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

They certainly have. To date, NASA’s more than 130 space shuttle missions have put over 800 people into outer space, and its shuttles have orbited earth more than 20,000 times.

“The bar for excellence on Earth was set on the moon 50 years ago this weekend,” says North America Managing Partner Liz Hilton Segel. “Even with half a century gone by, our work with NASA at the dawn of the space age still makes us feel immensely proud and humbled.”

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