Human World

John F. Kennedy moon landing speech made 62 years ago

May 25, 1961, JFK speech about a moon landing

The 35th U.S. president John F. Kennedy delivered a stirring speech before a joint session of Congress on today’s date in 1961. In it, he declared his intention to focus U.S. efforts on landing humans on the moon within a decade. His words ignited the work of a decade and ultimately achieved the dream of a moon landing, via the Apollo missions. Among other things, he said:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space. None will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft … to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior [and we propose] additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations. Those explorations are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight.

You can hear an audio version of that entire speech here.

Moon landing at last: The Eagle has landed

The first human footsteps on the moon were taken during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. That historic flight had launched from the Kennedy Space Center, just off the coast of Florida, on July 16, 1969. Three NASA astronauts were aboard: Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins.

While in flight, the crew of Apollo 11 made two televised broadcasts from the interior of the ship. They made a third transmission as they drew closer to the moon, as they showed the lunar surface to a waiting world.

Mission planners had studied the surface of the moon for two years, searching for the best and safest place for the lunar module to land. That module was nicknamed the Eagle. Planners had used the most detailed, high-resolution photographs at the time, taken by crafts employed in the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor programs. They’d considered craters, boulders, cliffs, hills and other lunar obstacles. Finally, they narrowed the candidate list from 30 sites to one: the Sea of Tranquility.

After the three astronauts reached lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the Eagle. They separated from the Command Service Module (Columbia). While Collins piloted Columbia in orbit around the moon, the Eagle touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. It was 4:17 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969. And that’s when Armstrong notified the world with the historic words:

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

Moon landing: Image of the moon with a circle at the middle right indicating the landing area.
Apollo 11 moon landing site, 1969. Image via Soerim/ Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission.

The Apollo missions

Six Apollo missions went to the moon: Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Apollo 7 and 9 preceded Apollo 11 and orbited Earth as a test of the lunar modules. Then, Apollo 8 and 10 tested technical components while orbiting the moon and returned quality photos of the lunar surface.

In 1970 Apollo 13 didn’t land, due to a dramatic malfunction that risked the lives of the crew. This mission was made famous for a new generation in the 1995 space docudrama Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard. And even Apollo 13, disabled as it was, returned photographs.

The Apollo missions returned a wealth of data about the moon, and 842 pounds (382 kg) of rocks. Also, the astronauts performed experiments on lunar soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic activity, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields and solar wind experiments.

The Apollo missions, first declared as a goal in John F. Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 speech, are now the stuff of legend. Man’s first step on the moon soon led to giant leaps in technology on Earth and modern life continues to reap its rewards. For example, new technologies were developed, including breathing apparatuses, fabric structures, communications and protective coatings.

When will we have another moon landing?

The Apollo program, which first took humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has long awaited a successor. Enter Artemis, the NASA program that will return humans to the moon. Artemis will be a multi-stage program using new technology, including the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Artemis 1, an uncrewed test mission that circled the moon, successfully completed its mission on December 11, 2022. The next stage of the program, Artemis 2, will take a crewed mission around the moon no earlier than November 2024.

Artemis 2 will be the first crewed flight for the SLS and Orion spacecraft. This mission will follow in the footsteps on Artemis 1, taking astronauts on a journey around the moon without landing. The four crew members should launch toward the moon sometime in November 2024. NASA announced the astronauts of the Artemis 2 mission on April 3, 2023.

Artemis 3 will be the mission that finally lands on the moon. The crew of four will include the first woman and the first person of color to go to the moon. A Human Landing System (HLS) – still in development – will launch prior to Artemis 3 and will await the Orion spacecraft at the moon. Then, two astronauts will descend to the moon on the HLS and spend approximately six days on the surface. This mission will launch no earlier than December 2025.

Artemis 4 and Artemis 5 are additional missions that plan to land on the moon, with possible launch dates of September 2028 and September 2029, respectively.

There’s also Starship

Also, SpaceX plans to send its Starship to the moon to prove it can provide support for NASA’s Artemis missions. While there are no dates planned yet for its first moon mission, it’ll be an uncrewed mission to prove the vehicle’s ability to leave Earth. Starship did successfully launch on April 20, 2023, but experienced a RUD – rapid unscheduled disassembly – once it started tumbling after liftoff.

Read more: Historic Starship launch, success. Explosive finale!

Read more: Ticket to the moon for billionaire and wife

Bottom line: On May 25, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress. In it, he declared his intention to lead the country to a moon landing by the end of the decade.


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May 25, 2023
Human World

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