British scientist Tom Bacon was a key member of the Marshall Group at Cambridge University which developed fuel cell technology. Fuel cell technology is a device which takes a source of fuel and mixes it with oxygen to convert a chemical energy into an electrical energy. The advantages of converting the chemical into an electrical energy include it being much more energy efficient and cheaper.
The fuel cell was first invented in 1839 by Welsh inventor Sir William Robert Grove, but it was Mr Bacon’s work which allowed the Saturn V – the rocket which propelled the Apollo 11 crew to space – to take off.
Mr Bacon was the first to develop a fuel cell powered by hydrogen-oxygen – which was unfathomably more powerful than its predecessors.
The Bacon Cell, as it was named, was a key component in powering the rockets which first took humans to the Moon, and without it America would not have got there.
That is at least what President Richard Nixon told Mr Bacon, who died in 1992.
Then chairman of Marshall Group Sir Arthur Marshall wrote in his book The Marshall Story: “Tom, without you we would not have gotten to the Moon.”
The book continues: “The principles of Tom Bacon’s fuel cell as developed at Cambridge were further developed by Pratt & Whitney of America and used in the Apollo moon landing in 1969 for which the fuel cell provided electrical energy and, from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, water for drinking and humidification.
“I posed the question to Keith Williams, who was writing on behalf of the Royal Society a biographical memoir on the late Tom Bacon’s work: ‘Would the Apollo moon mission have been possible but for Tom’s life’s work and his work with us at Cambridge?’
“Williams replied that he could not do better than to record Tom quoting the occasion when President Nixon put his arm around his shoulder and said, ‘Tom, without you we would not have gotten to the moon.’
“Pratt & Whitney wrote to Tom after the successful Apollo flight congratulating him on the part his fuel cells had played in the mission and recording that the three fuel cells were one hundred percent reliable. The electrical energy used during the mission was of the order of 400 kilowatt hours.”