Sprague Electric and the Space Race

Throughout the 1960s, Sprague Electric became one of the major contributors to the Space Race by making a wide range of electrical components.

In the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, there is a small object, no bigger than a fifty-cent coin. It is made out of silicon and is in the shape of a disk. It may seem unimportant to the untrained eye this silicon disk contains the Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages. This small object revolutionized the way that information was stored by retaining messages from seventy-four countries. The disk was left on the moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 during the moon landing. It was manufactured in North Adams by Sprague Electric and was only one of the many contributions Sprague made to the space program.

Sprague Electric was a business well-known for making electronic components, especially their capacitors, which were an essential part for any electric instrument in the mid-twentieth century. Most of these capacitors were used in commercial and military applications. Sprague Electric was a major contributor to the military during the Cold War and these efforts continued during the United States’ space race with the Soviet Union.

Sprague’s contributions began in the early 1960s, at the height of the Space Race. During this time, Sprague Electric components were used to help build the Telstar satellite, the first private communication satellite. After successfully helping with the construction of the Telstar and its successors, Sprague Electric received many more requests from NASA to help them build components for their space programs.

The next program that Sprague Electric worked on was Project Gemini. Sprague specifically worked on the launch vehicle Gemini-Titan II. The capacitors built by Sprague functioned to prevent any damage to other electronic pieces in the system. For their efforts, Sprague received multiple recognitions from NASA, including a letter of thanks from Hubert Humphrey, the Vice-President of the United States. But this was not the only program that Sprague contributed components to. In the following years, Sprague was also involved in a multitude of programs, including the Saturn V rocket that was in operation from 1967 to 1973.

Not only did Sprague focus its resources on the construction of components for the space program during the Space Race, but they also developed new technologies. One of the new technologies that Sprague developed was the Silicon Wafer. These are easily confused with Silicon Disk mentioned at the beginning of the story. Silicon Wafers are small conductors used for the construction of integrated circuits that can be found in a multitude of electrical devices. But Sprague’s biggest contribution was in 1969 with the Apollo 11 program. Sprague produced over 50,000 individual parts for the spacecraft.

Sprague heavily impacted Space Race with its several important contributions. Sadly, it's a story that not many people outside the Berkshires know about but it is one that the owners and workers of Sprague Electric can be proud of today.