“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”

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In 1961, John F Kennedy committed America to try to beat the Russians to land a man on the moon.


“On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. A number of political factors affected Kennedy’s decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States “catch up to and overtake” the Soviet Union in the “space race.” Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done. In addition, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in mid-April put unquantifiable pressure on Kennedy. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Vice President Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials, he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy’s speech.

The decision involved much consideration before making it public, as well as enormous human efforts and expenditures to make what became Project Apollo a reality by 1969. Only the construction of the Panama Canal in modern peacetime and the Manhattan Project in war were comparable in scope. NASA’s overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy’s speech; Projects Mercury (at least in its latter stages), Gemini, and Apollo were designed to execute Kennedy’s goal. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module’s ladder and onto the Moon’s surface.”

My grandfather Jim Elley, being highly cynical of America and Hollywood, like most New Zealanders of my era and older, at the time in 1969, said the Americans never landed on the moon, but made it up in a TV studio. Many throughout the planet believe this to this day, and there are many conspiracy theories.

For those my age (60) and older, they will remember how this space race between the Americans and the Russia created massive global intrigue and it somehow gripped the West and all those living in the Western World, to beat “those evil Russians” to the moon.

In 1966, aged ten, I built a spacecraft out of a steel frame and paper mache, a replica of a US spacecraft from a newspaper clip and decorated it grandly. It was for a New Zealand TV show competition. It won first prize and I got to go on TV to accept the award. I have vague memories of being on TV but can remember building the space craft. I don’t know where that spacecraft is today (probably in the bin many decades ago), whether we kept it, or whether the TV station kept it. It may be still in the backroom of TVNZ on a high shelf with 50 years of dust on it.