Here are excerpts from an article I wrote for the WoodbridgeLIFE newspaper about the amazing event that occurred in July 1969. The article was published in this month’s edition.
Mission to the Moon
by Jean Kavale
Occasionally I think about the days when Americans not only traveled to the moon but walked on its surface.
. . . .It was a remarkable achievement and the result of a step-by-step process that took place over several years. One major step occurred in 1958, when President Eisenhower founded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a government agency designed to lead space exploration. It has done so ever since.
The idea of lunar travel was conceived in 1960, also during Eisenhower’s administration. Called the Apollo program, it was a follow-up to the Mercury program. Unlike the Mercury capsule, which could support just one astronaut and could only orbit the earth, the Apollo spacecraft was designed to carry three astronauts and be able to orbit the moon.
When President Kennedy took office in January 1961, he wanted the United States to have superiority over the Soviet Union in space exploration. A Russian, however, was the first person to fly in space. Yuri Gagarin accomplished that feat in April 1961, although the U.S. wasn’t far behind. In May of that year astronaut Alan Shepherd became the second person to fly in space and the first American to fly in space.
A forward-looking President Kennedy was spurred into action by the foregoing events. He asked Vice President Johnson to look into the status of America’s space program and into programs that could enable the U.S. to catch up with the Soviets. As a result of extensive research into the technical details, it was determined that the United States could be the first country to reach the moon.
On May 25, 1961, Kennedy proposed the moon landing to a joint session of Congress. Some of his words follow: . . . Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not. . . . Now it is time to take longer strides, time for a great new American enterprise. . . .
John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, another step towards the objective of traveling to the moon. This happened on February 20, 1962. Further steps were the launchings of test flights Apollo 2 through 10. Sadly, there was a fire in the cabin of the first proposed test flight, Apollo 1, which resulted in the deaths of the three astronauts who were inside: Grissom, White, and Chaffee.
President Kennedy’s dream of putting an American on the moon came true in 1969. Neil Armstrong, serving as Apollo 11 commander, piloted the lunar module that landed on the moon’s surface on July 20. He was joined by astronaut Edwin Buzz Aldrin. The third man on this mission, astronaut Michael Collins, stayed in the command module.
Due to an assassin’s bullet, it was too late for the President to hear Neil Armstrong’s words as he left the lunar module, called Eagle, and stepped onto the moon: That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Millions of people all over the world heard him on their radios as he spoke or watched images of him walking on the lunar surface. It was a proud moment for America.
Buzz Aldrin was the second man to set foot on the moon. He and Neil Armstrong spent about two and a half hours doing various tasks such as planting an American flag in the moon’s dirt, performing experiments, taking pictures, and collecting more than 45 pounds of lunar material. Michael Collins meanwhile orbited around the moon in Columbia, the command module.
Eagle was on the moon for 21 hours before it roared back to Columbia, carrying Neil and Buzz. Remaining behind was a stainless steel plaque they brought with them, which they had signed. It also had the signatures of Michael Collins and President Nixon. It read: Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.
All three astronauts, now together again, left the moon’s orbit on July 22nd and returned safely to Earth.
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