On July 20, 1969, man took his first steps on the Moon—a goal that President John F. Kennedy set less than a decade before but never lived to see. The achievement captivated the world, including millions of Americans who watched history unfold before their eyes.
Fifty years later, we honor the bravery of three astronauts who entered the unknown, pioneered a new frontier, and left pride in the hearts of Americans for decades to come.
In 1961, before Americans had even orbited the Earth, President Kennedy announced his ambition for the United States to go to the Moon before the decade ran out. The next year, standing before a crowd in Houston, he helped unite Americans behind the Apollo program.
“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he told them.
From 1961 to 1963, President Kennedy grew NASA’s budget by nearly 300 percent, putting the wheels in motion for America to capture the lead in a Space Race with the Soviet Union.
After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson named the space center at Cape Canaveral in his honor. The John F. Kennedy Space Center would launch the historic Apollo 11 mission just six years later.
President Johnson maintained America’s commitment to space exploration. By the time he left office in early 1969, NASA was on the brink of accomplishing the incredible challenge set before it just eight years prior.
Six months later, on July 16, 1969, three astronauts woke up at 4:15 a.m. and ate breakfast.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins dressed in their space suits around 5:45, and by 7 a.m. they were boarding Saturn V. At 9:32 a.m., more than a million people gathered on Florida’s eastern coast to watch Saturn V launch for the moon.
Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong took a step as the world held its breath. President Richard Nixon picked up the phone to make the longest distance phone call ever recorded—to the Moon.
The three brave astronauts returned safely to Earth four days later after planting the American flag on the face of the Moon.
President Nixon met the astronauts upon their arrival, returning as heroes—in the United States and across the world. More than 100 foreign leaders congratulated the astronauts on their historic feat.
The Apollo 11 mission ignited enthusiasm across America for space exploration—a flame that unfortunately waned over time. Disbanded in 1993, the National Space Council lay dormant for nearly a quarter of a century.
Now, 50 years after Apollo 11 took mankind to the Moon, America is renewing its commitment to space exploration.
President Donald J. Trump has renewed America’s pioneering spirit in space by relaunching the National Space Council and committing to put Americans back on the Moon by 2024. The United States will seek to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028, and then chart a path forward to the exploration of Mars.
Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the renewed National Space Council, will celebrate the Apollo 11 50th anniversary at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His trip includes a visit to the exact spot where Apollo 11 launched on its historic mission.
“Fifty years ago, ‘one small step for man’ became ‘one giant leap for mankind,’” the Vice President said at a Space Council meeting earlier this year. “But now it’s come the time for us to make the next ‘giant leap’ and return American astronauts to the Moon, establish a permanent base there, and develop the technologies to take American astronauts to Mars and beyond.”