Forty years ago yesterday, Apollo 11, the spacecraft that would put the first man on the moon, took off from Cape Kennedy, Florida. On Wednesday, just the day before the anniversary of this historic launch, another space shuttle, the Endeavour, broke through earth's atmosphere, this time to further construction of the International Space Station.
America's exploration of the interplanetary unknown really began in 1957, the year that the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. The launch of the satellite named Sputnik 1 fomented international upset and is what we now recognize as the start of the space race, a more whimsical parallel to the arms race that was the centerpiece of United States-Soviet Union Cold War tensions. The space race became a symbolic competition between the two world powers, each nation wishing to solidify technological superiority and whip up patriotic spirits by being the first to conquer unknown frontiers.
In the aftermath of Sputnik, United States Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the government catered to growing public excitement about space exploration. President Kennedy challenged the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon, and before the decade was out Apollo 11 would succeed in doing so.
The space race began in a flurry of American optimism, but by 1969 it was only a flicker of American hope amidst the tumult surrounding the Vietnam war, student protests around the nation, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, and violence surrounding the Chicago Democratic Convention. Still, the launch of Apollo 11 was an awe-inspiring, uniting moment for a fragile country. Take a look at this great remix from our new intern Roman- the video is a wonderful compilation of the historical context of Apollo 11 as well as some exciting footage of Endeavour's launch!
Listen for the pointed rhetoric of Kennedy's speech at Rice University; he makes it clear that the mission to put a man on the moon is not exclusively a scientific pursuit. This goal, he asserts, is part of a larger striving for knowledge and peaceful power, but nonetheless is one that the United States "intend(s) to win," an important qualification that speaks to the acutely competitive atmosphere of the cold war.
At the very end of the remix are Armstrong's famous first words on the moon- spoken when Apollo 11 landed on July 19, 1969.