President John F. Kennedy congratulated the astronauts and NASA but said that thenation needed "a substantially larger effort" in space. Speaking to Congress on 25 May1961, Kennedy declared what that effort should be: "I believe that this nation shouldcommit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on themoon and returning him safely to the Earth." Kennedy admitted that the lunar programwould be expensive andrisky, but the public came to support it enthusiastically. Congressapproved the program—called Project Apollo—with very little debate. Apollo becamethe most expensive civilian project in American history.Kennedy's dramatic goal exhilarated NASA. Under the skillful leadership of administrator James Webb, NASA set out to achieve the goal. The Mercury flights (a totalof six from 1961 to 1963) and the subsequent Project Gemini (ten flights from 1965 to1966) served as preliminary steps to going to the moon. The larger and more advancedGemini spacecraft allowed astronauts to practice maneuversthat would be essential in the
Ironically, as NASA worked toward fulfilling its exciting goal, public support for theagency began to decline. After it became clear that the United States was not really losingthe "space race" to the Soviet Union, many Americans wondered whether the lunar program was worth its cost. Then, on 27 January 1967, three astronauts conducting testsinside a sealed Apollo capsule died when a fire broke out in the spacecraft. A review board found that NASA had not paid adequate attention to safety.After several unmanned Apollo test flights and one manned mission that orbited theEarth, NASA was ready to send a spacecraft into lunar orbit. Circling the moon onChristmas Eve, 1968, the crew of
beamed back to Earth spectacular pictures of the moon's surface. NASAsent two more test flights into lunar orbit and was then ready to land on the moon.
lifted off on 16 July 1969 and landed on the moon four days later. As much of theworld watched televised coverage inawe, Neil Armstrong became the first human towalk on the moon. Just after he stepped from his spacecraft onto the lunar surface,Armstrong spoke his immortal line: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The crew of
returned safely to earth on 24 July.
made a smooth journey to the moon and back, but the next mission—
—encountered serious problems. On the way to the moon in April 1970, one of thespacecraft's oxygen tanks exploded, crippling the ship and leaving doubt whether thecrew could return safely. Some ingenious work by the astronauts and the NASAengineers on the ground brought the crew of
home alive. NASA conductedfour more successful expeditions to the moon, but dwindling public interest andcongressional support led to the cancellation of the final two planned flights.
The Space Shuttle