Shortly after taking office in 1961, President John F. Kennedy set a goal for the U.S. space program. In a speech to Congress, he challenged the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
NASA’s mission was to encourage space exploration and peaceful ways to use space science. By 1961, NASA and others had tested rocket planes that flew faster than the speed of sound. It had launched satellites. It had sent the first American into space. It planned to explore Earth’s moon and the solar system beyond.
In 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth through NASA’s Project Mercury. Next came Project Gemini, which moved the United States closer toward Kennedy’s goal. Its flights extended the length of time astronauts were outside of Earth’s atmosphere. It provided room for more than one person in a spacecraft.
At the same time as Project Gemini, NASA launched its Apollo program. Apollo cost more than $20 billion in the 1960s. Today, that would be about $200 billion. The money went toward larger rockets to launch larger spacecraft. It went toward training astronauts and developing systems to keep them safe.
The hard work paid off. NASA built the Apollo 11 spacecraft. It had three parts:
Eagle had two parts. The lower part was designed to land on the moon and remain there. The upper part was designed to take off again, to return the astronauts to Earth.
On July 20, 1969, mission commander Neil Armstrong announced, “The Eagle has landed.” He stepped out of the lunar module and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Human beings had made it to the moon, fulfilling the dreams of President Kennedy and millions of others. Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon. Astronaut Michael Collins remained in orbit above the moon’s surface in the command module.
The Apollo 11 mission returned valuable scientific data to Earth. It was followed by other moon landings. Through Apollo missions, 12 people have walked on the moon. The last visit to the moon was the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.