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

Multimedia

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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid