The "space race," which culminated in the first moon landing in 1969, ironically was an outgrowth of the
cold war, the struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the most powerful country on
earth. The U.S. had developed the first atomic bomb. But in the early 50's, the Soviets devoted huge
resources to build and deploy nuclear weapons, and jumped ahead of the U.S.
Putting satellites and
men into space was a natural outgrowth of this effort.
The Soviets were first to launch a satellite into space, and first to fly a man in space. Their launch
vehicles were larger and far more powerful than those of the U.S. We woke up one day... and we were way
Our first astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, followed the Soviet's Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks.
But Gagarin had orbited the earth; Shephard had barely reached the edge of space.
A few weeks after Shepard's successful space flight, the new Kennedy administration decided to
challenge the country to complete a successful space landing by the end of the decade. The space
race was on.
For a few years, it was a close race. The U.S. spent $20 billion to land a man on the moon. We
allocated this money despite Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, the Great Society, and the
resources spent on the Vietnam War. We did not know it at the time, but the Soviet's efforts to stay
ahead on the race put a much more serious dent in the economy of the Soviet Union. Whether they
wanted to or not, Soviet citizens paid a high price so that their country could stay in the race.
In the late 1990's, space travel seems so routine and natural. But in the 1960's, it was all a huge
mystery. A trip to the moon (and back) would take at least six days. We had no idea how man would
react to long-term weightlessness; we had no idea how to create a vehicle that would be able to both
land on and take off from the moon. We had a hundred thousand questions, and no answers; and no
idea how to get the answers. But we had to do it, and we had to do it in less than a decade.
Even the assassination of the president who challenged his country to go to the moon did not deter
us. Nor did the death of three U.S. astronauts on the launch pad during a training session.
We all watched the progress of the space race. Most of us were fascinated by it. But in fact, few of us were directly involved in it. It was our tax dollars; it was our country. But we were not actually there at the space center. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm of the space program, the "can-do" attitude, and the
optimism of the period affected most all of us. It is this optimism and positive spirit that seems to be
missing in the 90's, despite the successful continuation of the space program.
The Mercury program got us off the ground... literally. The Gemini
program built the backbone for a
moon landing. And the Apollo series put it all together. Apollo 11 was scheduled to land a man on the
Apollo 11 took off on July 16, 1969. Aboard were Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong. All three U.S. television networks and a thousand other radio and television stations covered the launch. It was spectacular!
Three and a half tension-filled days later, Aldrin and Armstrong separated from the command module and headed for the moon. The television pictures they sent back were fuzzy and sporadic, but we were all glued to the
And we all remember the words, "Tranquility base here; the Eagle has landed." NASA kept it quiet that the Eagle overshot its intended landing site by four miles, and had less than 15 seconds of fuel left when it touched down. But at the time, none of that mattered. The U.S. had landed on the moon.
The television networks provided continuous coverage. But for some reason, the first walk on the
moon could not take place for a few hours. It would occur some time in the middle of the night on the
east coast. NASA could not be pinned down to an exact time. There were no home VCR's at the
time; we could not just pop a tape in the VCR and watch it in the morning. So the television networks
told us to turn the volume down low and go to sleep with the TV on. When the time came, they would
blast a loud signal to wake us up. Yes; it was that exciting; it was that special!
So tens of millions of us were up for much of the night to hear those words that are now so familiar: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." Early on the morning of July 21, 1969, man walked on the moon.
But there were still numerous challenges ahead for the three astronauts and the ground crew. Will the lunar module rocket blast off properly? It had been tested on earth... but this was not earth.... this was the moon! Will they be able to dock with the lunar orbiter correctly? And re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere is always a dangerous maneuver. A million things could still go wrong.
But on this unforgettable journey, the fates were with us. The flight back to Earth and the landing was
nearly perfect. 198 hours and 18 minutes after it began, the most famous expedition in history came
to a successful end. Man returned from a trip...to the moon.
A BRITISH ACCOUNT
Between 1969 and 1972 six manned Apollo
spacecraft were sent to the Moon. Twelve
men descended and walked on its dusty
At 3:56 am British summer time, Monday
July 21 1969 Neil Armstrong, commander
of Apollo 11 set foot upon the Moon. As
he took that historic step Armstrong
summed up the efforts of more than
300,000 people in industry, universities
and government with the famous words
"That's one small step for a man, one
giant leap for Mankind".
Launch date was set for July 16 when 600
million television viewers tuned in
along with spectators and newsmen at the
Kennedy Space Centre to view the launch
of the mighty Saturn Five moon rocket
which stood 363 feet high.
Buzz Aldrin walking on the
Along with Armstrong
were two other astronauts, Edwin Aldrin,
known as Buzz (a nickname his sister
gave him) and Michael Collins. Buzz was
to be the second man on the Moon and
Collins the command module pilot, who
would remain in Lunar orbit while his
crew-mates conducted scientific
experiments on the surface.
After three days travelling the quarter
of a million miles to the moon, reaching
top speeds of nearly seven miles a
second, the astronauts arrived at their
destination. Much of their launch
vehicle had fallen away leaving only the
small command module and the lander,
connected end to end.
Eagle (the lunar module) and Columbia
(the command module) separated on the
far side of the Moon and during the next
orbit the decent engine of the Eagle
fired, beginning Armstrong and Aldrin's
final assault on the Moon. They had to
stand side by side in the Eagle lander
as there was not enough room to be
The descent was far from smooth,
communications were poor and a number of
alarm lights signalled potential
problems with the space craft. An abort
situation seemed imminent but quick
thinking by mission control and some
very cool piloting by Neil Armstrong
ensured the success of the mission.
Armstrong, took manual control of the
lander and dodging a huge crater strewn
with rocks he managed to touch down with
only 20 seconds of fuel to spare.
"Houston. Tranquillity Base here. The
Eagle has landed" were his first words.
For the first time since creation man
had slipped the Earthly bounds of
gravity and had reached another
In Britain it was
just before midnight on July 20th 1969.
Four hours after landing the astronauts
donned their space suits and portable
life support systems and prepared to
exit Eagle. Armstrong eased his way
though the hatch and stepped on to the
porch leading to the ladder. On the way
down he pulled a lever which released
the package of instruments that the
astronauts would use on the surface. A
black and white camera was also
triggered to film live the historic
moment of Armstrong stepping onto the
Moon. The first giant leap for mankind
had been taken.
THE CATALYST: PRESIDENT
Just 30 years ago, July 20, 1969, one
man from the planet Earth fulfilled his
vision of landing safely on the surface
of the moon. It was neither Neil
Armstrong nor Buzz Aldrin. Their mission
was to plant the American flag for
another man who did not make the trip.
In fact, he hadn't lived long enough to
make the journey himself or witness the
success of those who stood in the bright
sunlight of Tranquility Base. Yet, it
was he who had inspired a hundred
million people to reach for the moon and
actually touch it in the space of a
decade. President John F. Kennedy did
more than land the Eagle. He transformed
the nation in the process.
On May 25,
1961, President Kennedy stood
before a joint session of Congress to
declare it "time for a great new
American enterprise -- time for this
nation to take a clearly leading role in
space achievement, which in many ways
may hold the key to our future on
earth." Timing, as they say, is
Americans were rattled on
October 4, 1957 when they heard the
beeping of the Russian Sputnik on
television and then rushed outside to
see it moving through the stars above
their own homes. That just couldn't be.
We won the war. We built the bomb. We
were the best, the brightest, the most
deserving. Weren't we? Our national ego
had been bruised, even crushed.
Collectively we yearned to prove again
that we could do anything we put our
minds to. Kennedy knew he had command of
one of those rare teachable moments. An
entire population would give its rapt
attention to any plan of visionary
leadership, even one that might sound
far fetched, even impossible.
entire Special Message to the Congress
on Urgent National Needs, these two
sentences would become famous: "First, 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
No single space project in
this period will be more impressive to
mankind, or more important for the
long-range exploration of space; and
none will be so difficult or expensive
In fact, "the goal, before this decade
is out, of landing a man on the moon and
returning him safely to the earth"
became a national mantra. The part about
being so difficult or expensive to
accomplish paled in comparison with the
parts about being impressive to mankind
and important for the long-range
exploration of space.
visionary leader might have merely asked
for funds to maintain our technology at
the same level as the Soviet Union and
let it go at that. But Kennedy asked for
the moon, and the nation went wild with
The logic behind Kennedy's thinking is
also shared within the context of that
speech. "I believe we possess all the
resources and talents necessary. But the
facts of the matter are that we never
made the national decisions or
marshalled the national resources
required for such leadership. We never
specified long-range goals on an urgent
time schedule, or managed our resources
and our time so as to insure their
Actually, we had
done exactly those things when
threatened by an escalating World War II
and in development of the Manhattan
Project, the atomic bomb. What President
Kennedy did was to inspire the nation to
behave in the same way, not merely for
the threat of being conquered by other
peoples but for the pursuit of a dream
"impressive to mankind."
Within the next eight short years, the
nation transformed itself. All of a
sudden students were getting more
homework and education was taken more
seriously. A college degree became the
ticket to success. To be a space
scientist or engineer was to be among
the elite. The astronauts were national
heroes, the space missions were a
national pastime. Hundreds of thousands
of demanding, high paying "brain jobs"
were created in the space program and in
education to support it. We became a
nation of technology. Everything was
transistorized, automated or backed by
On September 12, 1962, John F. Kennedy
gave a follow-up address at Rice
University on the Nation's Space Effort.
Again he reinforced the vision, by
revisiting the question "But why, some
say, the moon? Why choose this as our
goal?" A nation still rapt with
attention attached itself to his answer
and made these words almost as famous at
the moon challenge speech. "We choose to
go to the moon. We choose to go to the
moon in this decade and do the other
things, not because they are easy, but
because they are hard, because that goal
will serve to organize and measure the
best of our energies and skills, because
that challenge is the one that we are
willing to accept, one we are unwilling
to postpone, and one which we intended
to win, and the others, too."
Kennedy knew he would get to the moon,
and we would too. In that first speech,
the one that made the challenge, he
added "It will not be one man going to
the moon -- if we make this judgment
affirmatively, it will be an entire
nation. For all of us must work to put
him there." We got there on July 20,
1969, just as we were inspired to do.
25 LESSER KNOWN FACTS
ABOUT THE MOON LANDING
1. The first words to be uttered by the
astronauts upon landing were in fact "OK
Engines Stop..". It was only after that,
that those immortal words "Tranquillity
Base, the Eagle has landed" were
reported, and almost four hours later
that the historic line "One small
step..." was uttered.
2. The guidance computer for the Saturn
Five rocket weighed 10 tonnes and had a
memory the size of today's pocket
3. The five engines on the Saturn Five
rocket burnt a total of 40,000 litres of
fuel a second.
4. Astronauts were originally going to
be attached by a tether to each other so
that Neil could be pulled back into the
spacecraft if anything went wrong.
5. Alan Shephard, the golf playing
Apollo 14 astronaut was the oldest man
ever to walk on the moon at 47 years of
6. The average age of those men that
walked on the moon was 38.6 years.
7. Joe Eagle was one of the most
unfortunate astronauts whose years of
training and dedication ended in nothing
when the end of the Apollo programme was
8. 600 million television viewers
watched the first lunar landings.
9. The Saturn Five Rocket had 560,000
gallons of fuel.
10. On the Launch pad, Saturn Five
weighed 2700 tonnes
11. The Saturn Five engines could lift
400 double-decker buses off the
12. The parachutes that bought the
command module back to Earth cost £100
13. There is a 550 million to one chance
of meeting someone who has walked on the
14. If a car tire was to leak at the
same rate as a Saturn Five fuel tank it
would take 30 million years to
15. 30,000 photographs were taken on the
16. During re-entry the astronauts
travelled at 25,000 mph - that's 19
times faster than Concorde!
17. Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins
was paid a yearly salary of $17,000.
18. On splash-down the US Navy diver
that first opened the command module
door had to throw the quarantine suits
in and quickly re-seal the capsule. The
Astronauts remained in these sealed
suits for ten days after landing to
ensure that they were not infected by
any lunar "bugs"
19. When Aldrin and Armstrong returned
to the command module they jettisoned
the space suits back onto the surface of
the moon, to save weight for lift-off
20. Once the lunar lander had returned
to the orbiting command module and the
three astronauts were safely united
again, the Eagle lander was thrown back
onto the moon to create a "Moon-quake"
to complete the geophysical research.
21. A staggering 15.5 billion man hours
was spent on the Apollo project during
its first decade.
22. The lunar atmosphere was doubled by
Apollo ll's rocket engine exhausts. This
atmospheric contamination has slowly
been lost from the Moon again. The
Moon's atmosphere is so thin though,
that we cannot fail to pollute it each
time we visit. Even the air which is
released from the air lock on the lander
has a noticeable effect on the Moon's
23. 98% of the 400 kilograms of lunar
samples that were brought back have
still not been analysed.
24. It was not only the Americans that
were involved in the Apollo programme. A
host of other nations were involved
including the Germans and British. NASA
were keen to unfurl a United Nations
flag on the Moon when they arrived.
However, when the Senate heard about
this they demanded that it be the
American Stars and Stripes that be
flown. Armstrong and Aldrin found it
hard to stick the flag pole into the
surface and the flag blew over when the
lander took off!
25. Only one scientist has ever set foot
on the Moon - Geologist Harrison Schmitt
(Apollo 17). Many of the other
astronauts were former military test