The Fascinating History of the Apollo Space Program

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told congress he would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Unfortunately President Kennedy didn’t live to see it happen, but by 1969, the United States landed the first man on the moon. Some have called the Apollo Space Program,  the greatest scientific achievement ever accomplished. Between July 1969 and December 1972, the US landed twelve Americans on the moon with six different moon landings.



It is hard to believe that it has been 45 years since man first landed on the moon. Like most people my age, I can remember exactly where I was when I watched the first moon landing.

Like most kids during the 1960s, I was always interested in space flight and outer space. Growing up with TV shows like Lost in Space and Star Trek, the imagination was wild with what is out there. I remember watching the moon landing that day and then at night looking at the moon trying to imagine there were really people walking up there.

The Start of the Space Race


After World War II, a cold war developed between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States. This caused a huge competition between the two countries to gain a foothold in everything first. The U.S. was shocked, when in 1957, the USSR launched the first satellite ever, known as Sputnik. And the “Space Race” was on.

 One month later the USSR launched another satellite, this time with a dog on board. In 1958 congress formed The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and in that same year, the US countered with its first satellite launched into orbit. Between 1961 and 1966, the US had its Mercury and Gemini programs; accomplishing the first US manned space flight, Earth orbits, spacewalk and docking procedures.

On May 25, 1961 in a speech before Congress, President John F. Kennedy stated the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960’s. And his famous speech on September 12, 1962 where he said, “We explore space not because it is easy, but because it is difficult.”

The History of the Apollo Program


Only the construction of the Panama Canal was comparable in scope to the Apollo program. The Apollo spacecraft sat atop the Saturn V rocket.

The Apollo program had a disastrous start when during a test on January 27, 1967; Apollo 1 caught fire killing the three astronauts on board, Edward White, Virgil Grissom and Roger Chaffee. The spacecraft was un-fueled but the craft was completely oxygenated. A flash fire erupted killing the three astronauts and the spacecraft was completely destroyed.


The following investigation instituted many new safety procedures. The testing continued between November 1967 and April 1968 with Apollo 4, 5 and 6 being launched without any crew to test and qualify the Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Module.

  • Apollo 7 was launched on October 11, 1968 and was the first manned flight of the Apollo program with a crew of Walter Schirra, Jr., Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham. This mission only orbited the Earth to further test the spacecraft.

  • Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968 was the first US manned mission to orbit the moon with a crew of Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders. They orbited the moon on Christmas Eve.

  • Apollo 9 was another Earth orbit flight, testing all aspects of the Lunar Module.

  • Apollo 10 was the second mission to orbit the moon, which brought the Lunar Module within 47,000 miles of the moons surface where the astronauts made two passes over the future landing site.

  • Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969 with the crew of Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr. And on July 20, 1969 Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to land on the moon, they landed in the Sea of Tranquility with Michael Collins remaining in orbit in the command module. Upon stepping on the moon, Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. They set up experiments, took samples and photos. They also left a signed plaque which read:

Here Men From The Planet Earth
First Set Foot Upon The Moon
July 1969 A.D.
We Came In Peace For All Mankind.

  • Apollo 12 was the second mission to land on the moon with the crew of Charles Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon, Alan L. Bean. Making a precision landing on the moon on November 14, 1969. Astronauts Conrad and Bean walked on the moon and collected instruments from a previous unmanned craft, the Surveyor III.

  • Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970 was to be the third landing on the moon when disaster struck the spacecraft 56 hours into the mission. An explosion in the No. 2 oxygen tank ruptured the line in the No. 1 oxygen tank causing a rapid loss of oxygen. All oxygen, water, electricity and propulsion were lost within three hours. Thankfully, the crew was able to survive and splash down on Earth on April 17th.

  • Apollo 14, 15, 16 and 17 were all successful manned landings on the moon. Landing in different areas of the moon exploring and collecting samples.

  • Apollo 18 also known as the Apollo-Soyuz mission was the final flight for the Apollo program. Apollo 18 was launched on July 15, 1975 and joined with the Soviet Soyuz 19 making it the first time ever that two spacecraft built by different nations docked. The astronauts from the two countries met in the middle and shook hands.

Between July 20, 1969 and December 11, 1972, the Apollo program landed twelve Americans on the moon with six missions. The Apollo program might have been one of the greatest scientific achievements in history.

In 1972 with the Apollo program coming to an end, President Nixon made an announcement that the US would proceed at once with the development of the Space Shuttle program. The first manned US space shuttle was launched on April 12, 1981.

Copyright © 2009-2014 Sam Montana

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