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On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy said before a special joint session of Congress: "I believe 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 Earth." At this time, the Soviet Union was ahead in space-related developments, so Cold War-era America welcomed this proposal.
In 1966, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, led the first unmanned Apollo mission to test the structural integrity of a launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. On January 27th, 1967, they were conducting a manned launchpad test of the Apollo spacecraft when a fire broke out and killed three astronauts. However, NASA continued working on the mission to send a man to the moon, and in October of 1968, the first manned Apollo missions successfully orbited Earth. In December of 1968, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back. In March of 1969, Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while orbiting Earth. In May 1969, three astronauts took the Apollo spacecraft around the moon to prepare for the July landing mission.
The U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958. The “Space Race” was underway. In 1958, President Eisenhower signed a public order that created NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a federal agency which would be devoted to space exploration. NASA also had an interest in exploring the military potential of space. However, the Soviets managed to secure an important first, launching the first man into space in April of 1961.
In May of 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. This led to President Kennedy’s bold proposal before Congress that the United States should land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon in July of 1969 and Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, the Americans effectively won the Space Race.
Space exploration served as an arena for Cold War competition. In October of 1957, a Soviet missile had launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite and the first manmade object to be launched into Earth’s orbit. The launch of Sputnik was an unpleasant surprise to Americans, both showing Soviet advancement in space and demonstrating the power of the Soviet missiles, making Americans fear the Soviet Union could launch a nuclear warhead into the U.S. air space. It became important for the United States to gather intelligence about Soviet military activities, and to expand into space, which was seen as the next frontier of American exploration that they couldn't lose to the Soviets.
Photo of Sputnik:
Apollo 11 took off from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32am on July 16th, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were aboard. Apollo 11 traveled 240,000 miles in 76 hours to enter lunar orbit on July 19th. On July 20th, the lunar module Eagle separated from the command module. Collins remained on the command module, while Armstrong and Aldrin manned Eagle. The Eagle began its descent to the moon’s surface, and at 4:17pm it touched down on the lunar surface. Armstrong radioed Mission Control in Houston, Texas with the now-famous message, "The Eagle has landed."
Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module with a television camera attached to the module recording his progress and sending the signal back to Earth. Armstrong stepped off the ladder at 10:56pm and planted his feet on the moon’s surface. He then said his famous quote: “that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon’s surface where they took photos, planted a U.S. flag, ran some tests, and spoke with President Nixon. Both astronauts returned to the module, slept on the surface of the moon for the night, and then began their ascent back to the command module on July 21st. The Eagle rejoined the module, and on July 22nd Apollo 11 began its journey home. Apollo 11 landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24th at 12:50pm.