The Apollo Project
The Apollo Mission to the moon was the culmination of a competition set in motion in the 1950s when Russia successfully put the first satellite in an Earth orbit, then put the first man in space and then put the first man in an Earth orbit. By the time America got a man into space, the United States had few bragging rites when it came to manned space travel. The United States was playing catchup.
Thankfully, our president at the time realized the importance of not only competing in the space race, but winning it! It was more than just putting a man on the moon first, it was developing an industry that not only expanded our awareness of the universe, but expanded our technological advancement that would one day mean the United States would become the world leader in technology.
Just after the Russians put Yuri Gagarin into an Earth orbit, the ever-dramatic Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschchev, announced to the world:
“Let the whole world look and see what our great country is capable of. Let the capitalist countries catch up with us!”
When Alan Shepard became the first America to briefly venture into the outer limits of Earth’s gravity, President Kennedy made his dramatic challenge, almost before Shepard had been recovered from his Atlantic splash down (actually it was almost 3 weeks later). President Kennedy challenged Americans to put the first man on the moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard!
Young Kennedy’s brash statement would ultimately cost the lives of 3 American astronauts, but we would reach the moon before the end of the decade and beat the Russians in doing so– but only barely.
In September 1968 the Russians successfully sent an unmanned spacecraft around the moon. In December of that year, just 2 months after the Russian success, NASA decided to send men around the moon on Apollo 8, not quite 2 years after the tragic fire resulting from haste in the design and construction to meet the president’s challenge. The following year would determine the winner. In early March, 1968, Apollo 9 would test of all the elements necessary to go to the moon. Apollo 10 would be the dress rehearsal that would actually take men to the moon, descend towards the surface, but not actually landing on the lunar surface. That would come just 2 months later when Neil Armstrong, that grew up in the country of western Ohio, stepped foot on the moon. July 20, 1969 almost half of the world had their television sets turned on or were listening to their radios to hear young Armstrong speak the first words to be spoken from another planet.