‘We choose to go to the moon’ said John F. Kennedy in his 1962 address at Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas ‘not because it is easy, but because it his hard’. This single line is often credited with igniting interest in the space race between the USA and the USSR, and signalling the start of a program that would put two men on the moon by the end of the decade.
And so the A of our title stands for Apollo. For certain, the Apollo program wasn’t the beginning of US space exploration; it was preceded by and made possible because of the knowledge gained from Projects Mercury and Gemini, and one cannot underestimate the importance of these programs as the foundations of Apollo’s future success.
But whilst Mercury and Gemini were integral to the overall aim, it was Apollo that captured the public imagination. Its goal: to land human beings on the moon, was one so big, so incomprehensible to many, that it became a symbol of the America’s high aspiration, determination and resolve; success for those few elite astronauts would mean success for an entire nation. After all, the Soviet Union had established a lead on the Americans in the early stages of the space race and Apollo was the United States’ chance to catch up!
Running from 1961 to 1972, with a cost of over $150 billion in today’s money, the Apollo space program secured its place in history on the 20th of July, 1969 when Commander Neil Armstrong climbed down the Eagle’s ladder and uttered the now legendary (and apparently misquoted) line ‘one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’. Six further missions, five more successful lunar landings and a total of twelve men on the moon, but not since Eugene Cernan stepped off the surface in 1972, has another human being left his footprints in the lunar dust.
So after almost fifty years, is this all about to change?
Private spaceflight has been around in one way or another since the launch of the Apollo program, however it wasn’t until the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that companies began to develop, test and launch spacecraft with the capacity to compete and in some cases outperform, government funded operations.
SpaceX is undoubtedly the biggest name in this field. The company - owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched its Falcon 9 rocket in May of this year, carrying the Dragon Crew capsule and two American astronauts - Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley - to the International Space Station. This successful mission, returning to Earth just last week, marked SpaceX as the first commercial company to send humans into space and represented a significant step towards future missions to the moon, Mars and beyond, as well as proof of the potential benefits of collaboration between private and state funded operations.
And with NASA planning its own return to Earth’s nearest celestial body, with the appropriately named Artemis program aiming to put the first woman (and the next man) on the moon by 2024, the next few years are sure to be an exciting time for space enthusiasts. If you happen to be one of them - and given that you’ve gotten as far as the final paragraph, we can assume you are - why not give our Space Exploration Trivia quiz a try...
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