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What Was the Apollo Program?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Apollo Program was a program run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1961-1975. The primary goal of the program was to achieve human spaceflight, and to get humans to the moon and back again. On 20 July, 1969, the goal of the Apollo Program was achieved when Apollo 11 reached the moon and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin successfully walked on the surface of the moon, leading Armstrong to utter the famous phrase “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The groundwork for the Apollo Program was laid in the Eisenhower Administration, when the United States government recognized that space flight would become a growing issue in the 20th century. As the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified, President John F. Kennedy threw his support behind the program in 1961, declaring it a major goal of his administration. While Kennedy did not live to see the Apollo Program's success, he is often widely credited as the driving force behind the inception and funding of the program.

Landing humans on the moon and getting them back to Earth again is no small feat. The Apollo Program is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious and remarkable human accomplishments, illustrating the ingenuity and perseverance of the human race once it seizes upon an idea. Coordinating the program required the development of superior rockets, spacecraft, flight technology, and astronauts, among many other things. Many of the astronauts selected were high-performing members of the military, and the engineers and scientists who worked in the Apollo Program were among the best in their field.

While the Apollo Program created a striking visual symbol of American space power, it also contributed significantly to advancement of the sciences and technology. Much of the technology developed for the space program trickled down into the civilian world, from specialized fibers used in space suits to flight control technology. The program also gathered a great deal of valuable data about the moon, and space.

In addition to Apollo 11 in 1969, missions 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 also landed on the moon. Only two major failures marred the Apollo Program: the launchpad fire which killed the three Apollo 1 astronauts in 1967, and the midflight systems meltdown which nearly brought down Apollo 13 in 1970. Since the program ended in 1975, no humans have set foot on the moon, although several nations have expressed plans to re-establish manned moon landing programs and to explore the potential of lunar colonies.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By JessicaLynn — On Oct 05, 2011

@SZapper - Good point. I think we're really shooting ourselves in the foot here in regards to future advances in technology.

I tell you though, every time I hear about the Apollo program, I think about that movie Apollo 13. I think Tom Hanks was in it, if I remember correctly.

Man, that movie was exciting. I was really young at the time I watched it, and I didn't know that the astronauts actually got back safely. Watching the events play out in the movie was very dramatic!

By SZapper — On Oct 04, 2011

I think it's a real shame that NASA has put space flight on hold for right now. Considering what the article said about technology used in space travel trickling down to the civilian sector, I think this is a real shame.

Until I read this article, I had no idea that the Apollo program had such an effect. Very interesting.

By Emilski — On Oct 04, 2011

@titans62 - That is an interesting point to make that no one has gone to the moon in thirty six years. You would think that with the advances in technology it would be a lot easier to go back to the moon.

What I would theorize about why no one has returned to the moon is that the Cold War may have had something to do with. Following the last Apollo mission the United States suffered a multiple year recession and this somewhat put the Apollo funding on hold. Once the American economy got better Reagan was president and there was a present fear of mutually assured destruction and I have wondered if due to the tensions this deterred either the Soviets or the Americans from attempting another mission. Once the Cold War was over it was around 1990 and the NASA program may have taken a back seat to other things.

This is simply a theory that I have, that we have openly discussed in a college class, but there are many more plausible theories out there.

By titans62 — On Oct 03, 2011

One question I have about the Apollo program is why have they not gone back to the moon? They only had a few missions to the moon and they did discover a lot but the moon is not exactly small and there is still much more to discover.

The best argument I see to going back is in regards to possible colonization of the moon. Considering that they were able to go to the moon, with the technology they had and the money they had back in the 1960's and 70's you would think that with the near forty years of technological advances and the rise in funding that they would be able to go back to the moon and explore further.

By TreeMan — On Oct 03, 2011

@stl156 - I was reading about a moon conspiracy theorist and how he confronted Neil Armstrong.

When he told Armstrong that the government could easily threaten those involved to keep their silence, Armstrong replied that if you count everyone who worked at NASA, all the scientists involved in the years of calculations, the Air Force soldiers involved in the early stages of NASA, the civilian engineers involved with the construction, and the various people from the companies that helped supply the materials, as well as the various people involved in the government with the program, it would amount in the hundreds of thousands and would be impossible to cover up something so many people are involved in.

Armstrong's response to the moon landing conspirorist puts into perspective how many people were involved in the massive undertaking of NASA and it took this many people working together to accomplish what was seen at the time as being impossible and what some see as the greatest achievement in human history.

By stl156 — On Oct 02, 2011

I have always been interested in the Apollo program and how many people were involved in its undertaking.

I have heard that there were thousands of people both working for NASA and civilian employees helping NASA in order to get the massive project moving and obtain the ultimate goal of what should be seen as impossible, putting a human on an alien surface tens of thousands of miles away.

I am wondering exactly how many people were involve din NASA in some way that helped NASA to accomplish this incredible achievement.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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