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Editorial comment

Last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest achievements: the Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place on 20 July 1969.

While doing some research into the essential role that our industry played in the success of this project, I stumbled upon a very interesting blog by Jim Cooper, Senior Petrochemical Advisor for American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).1 Jim outlines exactly why the mission would not have been possible without our sector, and he’s not even referring to the kerosene that was used as rocket fuel to actually get man to the moon...

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Once in space, the astronauts required special suits to survive the harshest of environments, and petrochemicals provided the building blocks that made the advanced materials for these space suits possible. Jim goes on to explain how Neil Armstrong’s suit was composed of 21 different layers of synthetic materials, most of which used petrochemicals as the basis for their manufacture. The outer layers were made from materials including Teflon® (a brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene [PTFE], which is made from chloroform derived from methane); aluminised Kapton® (a polymide film made from benzene and mixed xylenes); and Mylar® (a special type of polyester that uses ethylene and paraxylene). Following a four-layer spacer made from non-woven Dacron® polyester, the inner layers of the suit included materials such as neoprene-coated nylon (neoprene is made from butadiene, while nylon uses butadiene as well as benzene) and polyester laminated with polyurethane (made using benzene or toluene, as well as ethylene and paraxylene). On top of all that, the space suit included a liquid cooling garment made out of Spandex, and used vinyl tubing made out of polyvinyl chloride (the primary building block of which is ethene).

If all that wasn’t enough, we also have the space helmets, which are made from materials that rely upon petrochemicals. And it is important to remember that modern space suits use a variety of petrochemical-dependent advanced materials that were not available when designing the kit for the Apollo 11 crew.

All of this serves to remind us of the essential – although often forgotten – role that petrochemicals play in so many different aspects of life, both on planet Earth and beyond.

For more details on the suits worn by the Apollo 11 team, I’d encourage you to read Jim’s full blog on the AFPM website (details can be found at the bottom of this page). We have also included a link to this story on Hydrocarbon Engineering’s new LinkedIn Showcase page, which can be found at

If you’re a member of LinkedIn, I’d encourage you to join our community. In addition to publishing the latest news highlights from our website ( and snippets from upcoming issues of the magazine, we regularly delve into issues past and reflect upon how our industry has developed throughout the years. Our Showcase page is also a great way to interact with our content (and fellow readers) and let us know about any features that you would like to see more of in the year ahead.

  1. COOPER, J., ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for petrochemicals’, AFPM, (19 July 2019),

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