“We choose to go to the Moon.”
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy called on the American people to support their country in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1962, it seemed unlikely we would ever catch up to the Soviets’ scientific advances, despite having our own successful man-in-space Mercury Project (1961-1963) program.
When setting a goal for the new space agency, President Kennedy consulted James Webb, the administrator at NASA. Webb said the Soviets, who had launched the first satellite, named Sputnik, would probably also beat us to having the first orbiting space station and having the first vessel to orbit the Moon. So, President Kennedy chose to aim higher and set the nation’s sights on having the first humans to walk on the Moon itself. His inspiring speech launched the Apollo Missions - whose ultimate destination was the Moon.
In the nearly seven years from that September 1962 speech to the July 1969 moonwalk, a lot would change within American society. The Civil Rights Movement was pushing forward. A war in faraway Vietnam would be a flashpoint for protests, particularly from some younger people who wanted no part of it. Portions of society seemed to unravel and remake themselves with varying degrees of success. President Kennedy himself did not live to see the first footsteps on the Moon. Indeed, he lived for only another 14 months, dying by an assassin’s bullets on November 22, 1963.
But, through all the national turmoil, NASA stuck to its original charge to send men to the Moon. It was no easy task, but the country rallied for a higher purpose spelled out by the late President Kennedy. On a hot day in July, in an America where most homes had no air conditioning, neighbors gathered around their TV sets to watch astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong take their historic walk.
What did we gain from the Space Race?
The drive to the Moon pushed our technologies beyond their everyday limits. Once the tech wheels started rolling, our definition of “everyday” started to look a lot more futuristic. Here are just a few of the really useful tech items developed from NASA breakthroughs:
- Infrared ear thermometers
- LASIK surgery
- Invisible braces
- Scratch-resistant lenses
- Firefighting equipment
- Portable cordless vacuums
- Water purification
- Solar cells
- Camera phones
- CAT Scans
- Wireless headsets
- Memory foam mattresses
- Computer mouse
- Portable computers
What’s next? Moon to Mars!
NASA has a new mission now, and the Moon is its jumping-off point:
“We will go to the Moon in the next decade in a way we have never gone before. We will go with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than was ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars.”
—NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
The plan is that the technology that will be developed to better survive on the Moon will be used for Mars missions as well. You can read more about the Moon to Mars mission on NASA’s page.
Exploring the Apollo 11 Mission
Check out the books and videos on this list to learn more about our first walk on the Moon.
This is a graphic nonfiction retelling of what the astronauts experienced on that July day in 1969.
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong may have made the first moonwalk, but Michael Collins was an integral part of the mission, piloting the command module. This is his personal story of his career in the Air Force, experiences as a test pilot, the Gemini missions, and, of course, his time on the Apollo 11 crew. A thoughtful biography that is considered by many one of the best astronaut autobiographies.
In 1969, the world wanted to see the Moon Walk televised, and it all depended on a 1,000-ton satellite dish located in a sheep-farming area of Australia. When the dish experiences technical difficulties at a crucial time, it's up to NASA scientists - and the locals - to fix it. Based on a true story and starring Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton.
This recent feature film focuses on Neil Armstrong and the 10 years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.
"First on the Moon offers an exciting behind-the-scenes look at America’s journey to the Moon—from the space race to the landing on the Sea of Tranquility to splashdown on Earth and the aftermath." With a foreword by Buzz Aldrin.
A documentary that was originally showcased during the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 1989, it has been edited to include more recent material and strives to convey the feeling of being on board an Apollo mission.
What viewers saw on TV in 1969 may have looked effortless, but the behind-the-scenes story involved a lot of effort and a bit of luck. In 11 episodes, the author examines crucial moments in the mission and also touches on four centuries of innovations/discoveries that were needed before a moonwalk could happen.