Essay about The History of the Apollo Missions

Essay about The History of the Apollo Missions

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When the crew of Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, Americans hailed the successful completion of the most audacious and complex technological undertaking of the 20th century: landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to earth. Just over eight years before, when President John F. Kennedy proposed the manned lunar landing as the focus of the United States' space program, only one American - Lt. Comdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. - had been into space, on a suborbital lob shot lasting 15 minutes. At the end of the first lunar landing mission, American astronauts had logged more than 5,000 man-hours in space. To the extent that any single event could, the first successful lunar landing mission marked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's development of the capability to explore space by whatever means were appropriate for whatever purposes seemed to serve the national interest.
To many, Apollo 11 demonstrated that the United States had clearly won the "space race" with the Soviet Union, which had been one of the space program's major purposes. By the time that was done, other issues dominated the scene. National interests were not the same in mid-1969 as they had been in 1961. Of the public reaction after Apollo 11, a congressional historian has written,
The high drama of the first landing on the Moon was over. The players and stagehands stood around waiting for more curtain calls, but the audience drifted away. . . . The bloody carnage in Vietnam, the plight of the cities, the revolt on the campuses, the monetary woes of budget deficits and inflation, plus a widespread determination to reorder priorities pushed the manned space effort lower in national support.
Project Apollo encompassed more than simply sending men to the moon and back. It reflected a determination to show that humans had an important role to play in exploring space, as they had in exploring the unknown comers of the earth in earlier centuries. That proposition was not universally accepted. From the time the space agency determined to put humans into space, many Americans argued vigorously against manned space flight on the grounds that it was unnecessary and inordinately expensive. Space scientists had already shown how much could be done with instruments, and planners were designing spacecraft that would revolutionize communications...


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...fort. Stressing that this meant a long and costly development program to reestablish the nation's world leadership in technology, he cautioned that "if we are to go only halfway, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty . . . it would be better not to go at all."It was a call for the country to commit itself wholeheartedly to a long-term project that required sustained effort, substantial cost, and determination to see it through to a successful conclusion.
If congressional reaction was less than enthusiastic, as Kennedy is reported to have felt afterwards,events of the following summer proved that Congress was solidly behind the venture. The supplemental budget request to get Apollo under way - $675 million over Eisenhower's proposed $1.1 billion - carried both houses with large majorities after little debate and suffered only minor reduction by the House Appropriations Committee. Congress and the nation were eager to see Apollo succeed; but NASA engineers, while confident that it could be done, better understood the magnitude of the task. Robert R. Gilruth, head of the Space Task Group, recalled later that he was simply aghast at what NASA was being asked to do.

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