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 above clip is from NASA’s page on President Kennedy’s announcement of the decision to go to the Moon.
Here is an audio recording of the speach I found on YouTube.
Twelve people have walked on the surface of the Moon.
- Neil Armstrong – Commander
- Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. – Lunar Module Pilot
- Charles Conrad, Jr – commander
- Alan L. Bean – lunar module pilot
- Alan B. Shepard, Jr – Commander
- Edgar D. Mitchell – Lunar Module Pilot
- David R. Scott – Commander
- James B. Irwin – Lunar Module Pilot
- John W. Young – Commander
- Charles M. Duke Jr. – Lunar Module Pilot
- Eugene A. Cernan – Commander
- Harrison H. Schmitt – Lunar Module Pilot
Apollo 17 left the surface of the Moon on 14th December 1972. We have not been back since then.