The website TopTenz.net lists 10 Lost Technologies such as Damascus Steel and the Antikythera Mechanism (via Kottke). Incredibly, the technology used to bake the Apollo programme lacks any meaningful record of its construction:
The Apollo and Gemini programs aren’t truly lost. There are still one or two Saturn V rockets lying around, and there are plenty of parts from the spacecraft capsules still available. But just because modern scientists have the parts doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to understand how or why they worked the way they did. In fact, very few schematics or records from the original programs are still around. This lack of record keeping is a byproduct of the frenetic pace at which the American space program progressed. Because NASA was in a space race with the USSR, the planning, design, and building process of the Apollo and Gemini programs was always rushed. Not only that, but in most cases private contractors were brought in to work on every individual part of the spacecraft. Once the programs ended, these engineers—along with all their records—moved on. None of this would be a problem, but now that NASA is planning a return trip to the moon, a lot of the information about how the engineers of the 1960s made the voyages work is invaluable. Amazingly, the records remain so disorganized and incomplete that NASA has resorted to reverse engineering existing spacecraft parts that they have lying around in junkyards as a way of understanding just how the Gemini and Apollo programs managed to work so well.
I find this offensive. Lore has it that the Apollo programmeran off less computing power than your average mobile phone, and I repeat my generous offer to donate my iPhone – completely gratis, I might add – to any future moonshot. Coupled with a Trident submarine turned on its end, I always assumed that this would catalyse our return to extra-terrestrial bodies. And so its crushing to hear that most of the work would have to be done again from scratch. What were you thinking, NASA?
Meanwhile, NASA joins the Flickr Commons, providing historical andiconic photography from the NASA space programmes. The image below is the Launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned oribtal flight, in 1962.