On May 25, 1961,
President John F. Kennedy announced, before a special joint session of
Congress, the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely
to the Moon before the end of the decade. A number of political factors
affected Kennedy's decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy
felt great pressure to have the United States "catch up to and overtake"
the Soviet Union in the "space race." Four years after the Sputnik shock
of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space
on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard
became the first American in space on May 5 of the same year, he only flew on a short
suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done.
Kennedy wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance
at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Vice
President Lyndon Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials,
he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very
challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in
which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. The decision involved much
consideration before making it public, as well as enormous human efforts
and expenditures to make what became Project Apollo a reality by 1969.
The Space Race
The Space Race was
an informal competition between the United States and the Soviet Union
that lasted roughly from 1957 to 1975. It involved the parallel efforts
by each of those countries to explore outer space with artificial
satellites, to send humans into space, and to land people on the Moon.
The Space Race became an important part of the cultural, technological,
and ideological rivalry between the USSR and the United States during
the Cold War. Space technology became a particularly important arena in
this conflict, both because of its potential military applications and
due to the morale-boosting psychological benefits.
The Space Race and
the Cold War
After World War
II, the United States and the Soviet Union became locked in a bitter
Cold War of espionage and propaganda. Space exploration and satellite
technology could feed into the Cold War on both fronts. Satellite-borne
equipment could spy on other countries, while space-faring
accomplishments could serve as propaganda to tout a country's scientific
prowess and military potential. The same rockets that might send a human
into orbit or hit a specific spot on the Moon could send an atom bomb to
a specific enemy city. Much of the technological development required
for space travel applied equally well to wartime rockets such as
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Along with other aspects of
the arms race, progress in space appeared as an indicator of
technological and economic capacity, demonstrating the superiority of the
ideology of that country. Space research had a dual purpose: it could
serve peaceful ends, but could also contribute to military goals.
superpowers each worked to gain an edge in space research, neither
knowing who might make a breakthrough first. They had each laid the
groundwork for a race to space, and awaited only the starter's gun.
Sputnik 1 was the
size of a large beach ball and weighed more than 80 kg and orbited the
Earth for more than two months. On October 4, 1957, the USSR
successfully launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit
the Earth, and the Space Race began. Because of its military and
economic implications, Sputnik caused fear and stirred political debate
in the United States. At the same time, the Sputnik launch was seen in
the Soviet Union as an important sign of scientific and engineering
capabilities of the nation.
In the Soviet
Union, the launch of Sputnik and the following program of space
exploration was met with great interest from the public. Because the country
recently recovered from devastating war it was important and encouraging
to see the proof of technical prowess in the new era.
the average American assumed that the U.S. had superiority in all fields
of technology. In response to Sputnik, the U.S. would launch a huge
effort to regain technological supremacy, including revamping the school
curricula in the hope of producing more engineers and scientists. This
reaction is nowadays known as the "Sputnik crisis".
Lyndon B. Johnson,
Vice President to President John F. Kennedy, expressed the motivation
for these American efforts as follows:
"In the eyes of
the world, first in space means first, period; second in space is second
public, initially discouraged and frightened by Sputnik, became
captivated by the American projects which followed. Schoolchildren
followed the succession of launches, and building replicas of rockets
became a popular hobby. President John F. Kennedy gave speeches
encouraging people to support the space program and trying to overcome
the skepticism of many who felt the millions of dollars would be better
used to build stocks of proven, existing armaments, or to fight poverty.
Humans in Space
cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he entered
orbit in the USSR's Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, a day now celebrated as a
holiday in Russia and in many other countries. 23 days later, on mission
Freedom 7, Alan Shepard first entered sub-orbital space for the U.S.
John Glenn, in Friendship 7, became the first American to successfully
orbit Earth, completing three orbits on February 20, 1962.
dual-manned flight also originated in the USSR, August 11-15, 1962.
Soviet Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16,
1963, in Vostok 6. Initially the Soviet engineers scheduled further Vostok
missions of longer duration, but following the U.S.'s announcement of the
Apollo Program, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev demanded more firsts.
The first flight with more than one crew member, the USSR's Voskhod 1, a
modified version of the Vostok craft, took off on October 12, 1964,
carrying Vladimir Komarov, Konstanin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov onboard. This flight also
marked the first occasion on which a crew did not wear spacesuits.
by geopolitical considerations, Project Apollo was a series of human
spaceflight missions undertaken by the United States of America (NASA)
using the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn launch vehicle, conducted during
the years 1961-1975. It was devoted to the goal of (in Kennedy's famous
words) "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth"
within the decade of the 1960s. This goal was achieved with the Apollo
11 mission in July 1969.
continued into the early 1970s to carry out the initial hands-on
scientific exploration of the Moon, with a total of six successful
landings. As of 2006, there has not been any further human spaceflight
beyond low earth orbit. The later Skylab program and the joint
American-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project used equipment originally
produced for Apollo, and are often considered to be part of the overall
successes, there were several major failures, most notably the deaths of
astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1
launchpad fire, the explosion on Apollo 13 which nearly killed three
more astronauts, and a release of poisonous gases during re-entry of the
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project spacecraft that nearly killed three more
The Apollo Program
was originally conceived late in the Eisenhower administration as a
follow-on to the Mercury program, doing advanced manned earth-orbital
missions. In fact, it became the third program, following Project Gemini,
in which the objective was to develop
techniques for advanced space travel. The
Apollo Program was dramatically reoriented to an aggressive lunar
landing goal by President Kennedy with his announcement at a special
joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961:
"...I believe that
this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this
decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to
the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more
impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration
of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish..."
"I believe we
should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well
as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in
making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks
and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in
agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position
in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the
burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and
demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical
manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their
diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly
spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline
which have not always characterized our research and development
efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs
of material or talent, wasteful inter-agency rivalries, or a high
turnover of key personnel."
and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate
them further--unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman,
every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal
pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of
freedom, in the exciting adventure of space."
Apollo 11 Gets
Soviet probes did reach the moon before any U.S. craft, American Neil
Armstrong became the first person to walk on the lunar surface, after
landing on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 was the
first manned mission to land on the Moon. It was the fifth human
spaceflight of the Apollo program, and the third human voyage to the
moon. Launched on July 16, 1969, it carried Commander Neil Armstrong,
Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin 'Buzz'
Aldrin. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the
Moon, while Collins orbited above.
fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal. In
addition to one million people crowding the highways and beaches near
the launch site, an estimated audience of over 600 million people viewed
the event on television; a new record at that time. President Nixon
viewed the proceedings from the Oval Office of the White House.
commentators widely recognize the lunar landing as one of the defining
moments of the 20th century, and Armstrong's words on his first stepping
onto the moon's surface became similarly memorable:
"That's one small
step for man, one giant leap for mankind."