Apollo: Expanding Our Knowledge of the Solar System

    Fisheye view from the launch tower of the Apollo 11 Saturn V, seconds after first-stage ignition on July 16, 1969.Apollo 11 launches on July 16, 1969. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA Forty years ago, men from Earth began for the first time to leave our home planet and journey to the moon. From 1968 to 1972, NASA's Apollo astronauts tested out new spacecraft and journeyed to uncharted destinations.

    › Interactive Feature: The Apollo Program

    It all started on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade. Coming just three weeks after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, Kennedy's bold challenge set the nation on a journey unlike any before in human history.

    Eight years of hard work by thousands of Americans came to fruition on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module and took "one small step" in the Sea of Tranquility, calling it "a giant leap for mankind."

    Innovation and even improvisation were necessary along the way. In December 1968, rather than letting lunar module delays slow the program, NASA changed plans to keep the momentum going. Apollo 8 would go all the way to the moon and orbit without a lunar module; it was the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

    Six of the missions -- Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 -- went on to land on the moon, studying soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields and solar wind. Apollos 7 and 9 tested spacecraft in Earth orbit; Apollo 10 orbited the moon as the dress rehearsal for the first landing. An oxygen tank explosion forced Apollo 13 to scrub its landing, but the "can-do" problem solving of the crew and mission control turned the mission into a "successful failure."

    The program also drew inspiration from Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who lost their lives in a fire during a launch pad test in 1967.

    › Text and Audio Versions of President Kennedy's Speech
    › The Apollo Program--A List of Resources
    › View Key Apollo Source Documents
    › History of Human Space Flight
    › Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

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