News / USA

    'Man on the Moon' Challenge, 50 Years On

    US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy gives a speech on the nation's space effort before a special session of Congress on May 25, 1961, announcing the goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end on the decade
    US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy gives a speech on the nation's space effort before a special session of Congress on May 25, 1961, announcing the goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end on the decade


    Fifty years ago, on May 25, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy issued a grand challenge that changed the world as humankind knew it - to send a man to the moon and bring him home again, and to do it by the end of the decade.  

    It is one of the most enduring images of all time - an earthling setting foot upon the moon for the first time.  The moment was immortalized by astronaut Neil Armstrong.

    "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," he said.

    The challenge to put a man on the moon had been issued only eight years earlier, on May 25, 1961, by newly elected President John F. Kennedy in a bold speech before Congress.

    "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 earth," he said.

    To set the stage for this speech, here is a bit of history:

    In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik - the first artificial object ever placed into orbit around Earth.

    And only one month before Kennedy's speech, the Soviets sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin.

    Three weeks later an American followed suit - Alan Shepard, who admired the view from his Freedom 7 Mercury space capsule.

    "On the periscope - what a beautiful view," said Shepard. "Cloud cover over Florida."

    The space race was well underway.

    Allan Needell, who works at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, where he curates the lunar-mission spacecraft collection, says attaining technological superiority in the space race was also about swaying new nations on Earth.

    "The Soviet Union was providing a real challenge to American supremacy, and the fear was that most of these emerging countries, both in Latin America and in Asia, would choose the model of the [Communist] Soviet system rather than the free market, capitalist system that was favored by the United States," he said.

    At the time of Mr. Kennedy's speech, there were also issues at home.

    "It was the end of a recession, a recession which by recent standards wasn't as severe as the one we're just passing, but it was severe in the context of the 1950s, which had been a period of quite dramatic growth," said Needell.

    There was also high unemployment and a number of aging Americans who could not afford adequate healthcare - challenges similar to those the country faces today.

    Recently, President Barack Obama recalled the early days of the space race.

    "After investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs," he said.

    That wave of innovations sent men to the moon.

    Other presidents have set out grand challenges for space innovation, such as Ronald Reagan in 1984.

    "We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic and scientific gain," President Reagan said. "Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade."

    It took a little longer than planned, but people have lived continuously on the International Space Station for the past decade, and the ISS is seen as an advancement for all mankind.

    Needell says that was also the case with the first moon landing.

    "The vision of this being 'we come in peace for all mankind' was developed and actually accepted all around the world, that this was a human accomplishment as much as it was a demonstration of American superiority," he said.

    And a giant leap for mankind.


    Highlights of 50 Years of the U.S. Space Program

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora