On July 20, 1969, the United States reached a new high in its ongoing struggle to master exploration of space. The manned lunar mission landing on this summer day culminated more than a decade of research and development. Furthermore, it marked a major milestone in the U.S.'s competition with the USSR in the area of space exploration.
The New York Times reported on the day of the landing that the three astronauts, Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins, circled in the moon's orbit as a camera on the spacecraft transmitted color television pictures to millions of viewers on Earth. As they flew 100 miles above the lunar surface in Apollo 11, the astronauts passed landmarks such as Smyth Sea, Sea of Fertility, Langrenus Crater, Messier Crater and the Sea of Tranquility. The newspaper also published diagrams of the mission's flight pattern, sections of conversation transcripts between the crew and the ground controllers, and a flight plan.
It is evident that the country was captivated by this adventure, seen from a world away. In fact, the day following the successful lunar landing, The New York Times used the largest headline in history and devoted the entire first section of the paper to information about the Apollo 11 mission.
Apollo 11 was the first mission by any country to bring humans to walk on the moon, and this was one of the most prominent reasons we paid it such keen attention. The three astronauts immediately became national heroes. All three served in the Air Force prior to their tenure at NASA, and they started work as astronauts in 1962 and 1963. Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and Aldrin followed closely. It was Collins's job to pilot the "orbiting mother ship." Since their famous mission, all three have led public lives, both in and out of government service. All have authored books about the Apollo 11 mission and on other subjects.
The excitement of the race to space against the Soviets was even more of a reason for Americans to pay attention to the walk on the moon. Since the late 1950s, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson made space exploration at least an item on their agenda, if not a priority. During Eisenhower's and the beginning of Kennedy's tenures, space exploration wasn't a focus. However, with Kennedy's bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the President and the U.S. government began to search for a way to restore their credibility in the eyes of the world. Kennedy charged Vice President Lyndon Johnson with this task, and the Vice President came up with the concept of "leadership in space," as he called it.
Subsequently, Kennedy used the space race "to transform the U.S. from a nation of losers into a nation of winners." The developments in this international competition provided the American public with a source of excitement and pride. The race evolved into a struggle over more than just technological superiority: Kennedy introduced the themes of character, freedom, and integrity into the national discourse on space. According to author Linda Krug, "Kennedy made the space program dependent on dramatic and splashy manned adventures. Kennedy's manned lunar goal…was the result of a compelling urge…to make a dramatic impression" on the American people.
Kennedy accomplished this by promoting a comprehensive program devised by NASC and later adopted by NASA, the agency that evolved from NASC. This program was three-pronged: first, the agency would finish the Mercury Program of "sub orbital and orbital Earth flights;" second, the beginning of the Gemini program of "Earth orbital flights," which included practice "docking between 2 ships, practice working outside the spaceship, and testing "man's space endurance." The third prong of the plan was the Apollo program, whose main goals were to achieve orbit and to land Americans on the moon. Kennedy's new action on this front mobilized support among the government for the space program.
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