To the Moon!

The Space Age Begins: A Race to the Moon

Mercury - Gemini - Apollo

On to the Moon


Gregory A. Smith & Chris A. Peterson

Published by

Mission: To advance space exploration and the establishment of human communities beyond Earth.

(c) 2000, The Apollo Society. All rights reserved.
The Apollo Society is a non-profit educational and scientific research organization Federally recognized under US IRS Code 501(c)(3).

To the Moon!

The Space Age Begins: A Race to the Moon

The Space Age was born of a combination of very different human activities and motivations: imagination and exploration, military weapons development, national prestige, and international scientific cooperation.

It is human nature to be curious, to reach out in exploration to try to understand the world around us. The wonders of the night sky are also part of our world, though seemingly just out of reach. Early astronomers watched movements of the Moon, planets and stars in efforts to understand them and their relation to us. Galileo turned one of the first telescopes toward the Moon and discovered that it was another world with mountains and what he thought were seas. When Galileo and the astronomers that followed him in the 18th and 19th centuries also discovered the (literally) astronomical distances between celestial objects, the age-old desire to reach the Moon became a symbol of the impossible.

But some people like to dream "impossible" dreams. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Russia and Herman Oberth in Germany described how rockets could propel an object through space. An American dreamer, Robert Goddard, began building and flying small rockets in the 1920s. However, rockets remained little more than curiosities until they were developed into weapons of war. Germany developed V-2 rockets and used them to attack Britain during the Second World War. After the war, some of the remaining V-2 rockets and many of the German rocket scientists, including their leader, Wernher Von Braun, were brought to America to build rockets for the United States. Other German rocket scientists were taken to the U.S.S.R.

While the militaries of the U.S. and the Soviet Union were building on the V-2 technology to develop long-range missiles, scientists around the globe were planning an unprecedented experiment in peaceful scientific cooperation, the International Geophysical Year (IGY, July 1, 1957 - December 31, 1958). The IGY was organized to coordinate activities by scientists and governments around the world to study Earth as a planet. As part of the IGY, the United States announced that it would attempt to orbit an artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union later announced that it would do the same, but the declaration was not taken seriously or even noticed by most Americans. Behind the scenes, however, the Soviets had started an undeclared contest with the United States for superiority in space technology. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union succeeded in launching a satellite called "Sputnik" (traveling companion). The world was stunned by the accomplishment.

While the American civilian space program was openly publicized, and launch attempts were often televised live, the Soviet Union was secretive, only announcing successes after the fact and never admitting failures. Many Americans worried that if the U.S.S.R. could surprise the world by secretly developing the capability to launch the world's first artificial satellite, it could also launch nuclear weapons into orbit where they could be dropped on the United States with little or no warning. The U.S. had to catch up! Fast!! What had started out in a spirit of peaceful scientific cooperation had suddenly become a life-or-death contest. The Space Age - and an undeclared space race - had begun.

The United States successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, which discovered Earth's Van Allen radiation belts, on January 31, 1958. The U.S. government established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and, in 1959, NASA announced the selection of the first seven astronauts. But on April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union scored another first when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit and became the first human in space. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, followed with a brief suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. Less than three weeks later, on May 25, President John F. Kennedy called on Congress and the nation to attempt to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before the end of the decade. The United States now knew it was in a race, and it had declared a finish line. The space race had become a race to the Moon.

The Mercury Program

On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became America's first man in space with his suborbital flight of the Mercury spacecraft "Freedom 7."

Within 3 weeks of Shepard's flight, President John F. Kennedy, told Congress; "I believe 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."

The Mercury 7

Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

The Mercury Project was the United States' first human-in-space program with six crewed flights from 1961 to 1963. Astronauts Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper each followed Alan Shepard with their own Mercury missions. "Deke" Slayton, selected to fly MA-7 (Mercury-Atlas-7), was grounded by NASA flight surgeons for an irregularity in his heartbeat. Deke became NASA's "Chief Astronaut," and finally got into space "thirteen years overdue," with the flight of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July, 1975.

The Mercury program proved that we could reach, work in, and return from space.

The Gemini Program

Ed White - Space Walking

In 1965 and 1966 the Gemini Program flew 10 crewed flights; Gemini 3 through Gemini 12. These were the first space missions to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft in orbit and to test astronauts and hardware for up to 2 weeks in Earth orbit. Gemini astronauts also conducted extensive EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities - space walks). Ed White became the first American to walk in space from his Gemini 4 spacecraft launched June 3, 1965.

Only Gemini 3, the first crewed Gemini spacecraft, had a call sign; "Molly Brown." Command pilot Gus Grissom, whose Mercury spacecraft sank and was lost after splashdown in the Atlantic, jokingly named his Gemini spacecraft in reference to the heroine of the musical comedy "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."

The Gemini Program taught us 1) how to "fly" a spacecraft by maneuvering in orbit and 2) how to rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft. These were the skills that would be required for the upcoming Apollo missions.

The Apollo Program


January 27, 1967

Virgil I. Grissom * Edward H. White II * Roger Chaffee

"If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life." - Gus Grissom

* * * * * * *

Apollo astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee sacrificed their lives for the space program when a fire swept tough their Apollo Command Module during a pre-flight test at Pad 34, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Kennedy, Florida on January 27, 1967. The mission was scheduled for launch on February 21, 1967 and was to be the first crewed Apollo mission. The investigation of the fire led to major design, engineering and testing modifications that substantially improved the overall safety of the entire Apollo program.

The success of the Apollo space program is founded on the lessons learned in the tragedy of Apollo 1.

* * * * * * *


Apollo 7 Launch - October 11, 1968
The Maiden Voyage of the Apollo Spacecraft

The Apollo program arose from the ashes of Apollo 1 with the successful launch of Apollo 7 on October 11, 1968. Commander Walter "Wally" M. Schirra, Jr., Command Module Pilot Donn F. Eisele and Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham checked out the re-engineered Apollo Command and Service Module for the maiden crewed voyage of the Apollo space program.

* * * * * * *


Apollo 8 Patch

On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders became the first human interplanetary space explorers when they left the bounds of Earth's gravity and flew 10 orbits around the Moon. The crew of Apollo 8 brought back the first photograph of the Earth as a globe in space: a Christmas gift for humanity.

From the crew of Apollo 8
The crew of Apollo 8 brought back the first photograph of the Earth as a globe in space; a Christmas gift to humanity.

* * * * * * *


Apollo 9, launched March 3, 1969, was the first flight test Saturn V/Apollo Spacecraft in full lunar mission configuration. Apollo 9 conducted tests of the Command Module and the Lunar Module in Earth orbit.

Command Module Pilot David R. Scott, was left alone to fly the Command Module named "Gumdrop," while Mission Commander James A. McDivitt, and Lunar Module Pilot Russell L. Schweickart tested the spindly legged lunar lander they called "Spider."


* * * * * * *


 Earthrise from Apollo 10

Apollo 10, launched on May 18, 1969, was a full dress rehearsal of the landing mission and also a reconnaisance mission in which potential landing sites were reconnoitered. After separating from the Command Module named "Charlie Brown" and dropping from lunar orbit at 60 miles down to 50,000 feet, Mission Commander Thomas P. Stafford and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene A. Cernan barnstormed the mountains of the moon at 3,700 mph in their Lunar Module called "Snoopy." As they skimmed over the mountains of the Moon, Gene Cernan called out; "Houston, this is Snoopy! We is Go and we is down among' em, Charlie!"

At the low point in their trajectory, the crew attempted to release their decent stage. Immediately the spacecraft began pitching up and down and violently yawing left and right. "We've got some wild gyrations." Cernan announced as he wrestled with the controls. For 8 tense seconds the crew fought to regain control of their ship. "Hit the AGS!" Cernan yelled to Stafford to deactivate the Abort Guidance System. Somehow an abort system switch had been left in an incorrect position. This caused the spacecraft to begin radar searching and firing rockets in an attempt to find its mother ship, "Charley Brown." The quick thinking of the skilled crew brought their ship back under control and headed back up to a rendevous with the Command ship and Command Module Pilot John W. Young for a flight home to Earth. If the crew of Snoopy had not reacted as swiftly as they had, after another 2 seconds, their spacecraft would have locked into a dive that would have crashed Apollo 10 on the Moon.

The Apollo Lunar Landing Missions


* * * * * * *





July 16, 1969

July 20, 1969

July 24, 1969




CMDR: Neil A. Armstrong
CM Pilot: Michael Collins
LM Pilot: Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin

CM: Columbia
LM: Eagle

21.6 hours

MET 109:24:13 Neil Armstrong: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind"





November 14, 1969

November 19, 1969

November 24, 1969




CMDR: Charles (Pete) Conrad, Jr.
CM Pilot: Richard F. Gordon
LM Pilot: Alan L. Bean

CM: Yankee Clipper
LM: Intrepid

31.5 hours

MET 115:22:16 Pete Conrad: "Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."





April 11, 1970

Landing Aborted

April 17, 1970




CMDR: James A. Lovell
CM Pilot: John L. Swigert, Jr.
LM Pilot: Fred W. Haise, Jr.

CM: Odyssey
LM: Aquarius

Landing Aborted

MET 55:55:35 Jim Lovell: "Houston, we've had a problem."





January 31, 1971

February 5, 1971

February 9, 1971




CMDR: Alan B. Shepard, Jr.
CM Pilot: Stuart A. Roosa
LM Pilot: Edgar D. Mitchell

CM: Kitty Hawk
LM: Antares

33.5 hours

MET 115:52:33 Alan Shepard: "Nothing like being up to your armpits in lunar dust!"





July 26, 1971

July 30, 1971

August 7, 1971




CMDR: David R. Scott
CM Pilot: Alfred M. Worden
LM Pilot: James B. Irwin

CM: Endeavor
LM: Falcon

66.9 hous

MET 119:55:45 David Scott: "Okay, Houston, As I stand out here in the wonders of the
unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize there's a fundamental
truth to our nature; Man must explore. And this is exploration
at its greatest!"





April 16, 1972

April 21, 1972

April 27, 1972




CMDR: John W. Young
CM Pilot: Thomas K. Mattingly, II,
LM Pilot: Charles M. Duke, Jr.

CM: Casper
LM: Orion

71 hous

MET 119:04:05 John Young: "...I'm sure glad they got ol' Brer Rabbit, here, back in the briar patch where he belongs."





December 6, 1972

December 11, 1972

December 19, 1972




CMDR: Eugene A. Cernan
CM Pilot: Ronald E. Evans
LM Pilot: Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt

CM: America
LM: Challenger

75 hous

MET 170:41:00 Gene Cernan: " we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."

On to the Moon
- The rationale for building a community on Earth's Moon -

Why begin on the Moon? Why not Mars or an asteroid first? While other locations may offer certain attractions for settlers, Earth's Moon possesses practical advantages unmatched by any other body.

Proximity to Earth

The Apollo astronauts reached the Moon in only about three days. Travelers to Mars or an asteroid would need to spend several months in space just to reach their destination. The trip back would be just as long at best, and only at infrequent intervals when Mars or the asteroid are favorably positioned with respect to Earth.

Previous Experience

Humans have been to Earth's Moon, and we know that humans can work for extended periods there and can survive a round trip to the Moon without suffering any serious ill effects. The Apollo astronauts brought back 382 kg of rocks and soil from known locations on the Moon, and three Soviet robot landers returned 250 gm. These samples have been studied intensively.

Known Resources

The Moon possesses many of the resources, such as oxygen, hydrogen, iron, titanium and shielding material, that are needed in order to build a settlement and enable our further exploration of - and expansion into - the solar system. Recent discoveries even suggest that there may be H2O ice at the lunar poles. These resources could also greatly benefit Earth orbiting operations. It is even possible that the Moon may become a valuable source of Helium-3 in future fusion power generators on Earth.


For all the above reasons and more, a human settlement beyond Earth can be developed for less money and can become self-sustaining more quickly on Earth's Moon than anywhere else.

Benefits to Earth

The Moon has much to offer humanity on Earth. The Moon is an easily visible symbol of humanity's reach for the stars, uplifting the spirit and offering hope for the future. The combination of geologic stability, low gravity, lack of atmosphere and (on the farside) shielding from Earth's radio interference, makes Earth's Moon an excellent platform for astronomical observatories. It may also prove useful to monitor Earth's environment from the Moon. Of course, further exploration of the lunar surface will teach us more about the history and possible future of the Earth and our solar system. For example, through further geologic studies of the Moon we can expect to learn more about the variability of the Sun and the frequency of impacts by meteoroids in our neighborhood.

Soon new pioneers will move beyond Earth. Doing so will be difficult, but the struggle will make us stronger, as it always has. We have extended our reach and our abilities by moving into new environments. Living in space will require us to develop new and efficient methods of food and energy production, materials processing and waste recycling techniques that can also benefit those on Earth. Most of the benefits are ones we cannot yet foresee. That is the nature of exploration -- we discover what we did not know or even imagine. Perhaps the greatest benefit of space exploration and settlement will be a lifting of the human spirit as we see that we have risen beyond the boundaries of Earth and will find endless opportunities among the stars.

The best place to begin this adventure is on Earth's Moon.


MET = Mission Elapsed Time (usually initiating at time of launch)
CMDR = Mission Commander
CM = Command Module
LM = Lunar Module


A Man on the Moon; Andrew Chaikin (1994), Viking Penguin, ISBN: 0-670-81446-6

Lost Moon; Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger (1994), Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN: 0-395-67029-2,

Moon Shot; Alan Shepard & Deke Slayton (1994), Turner Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-878685-54-6

This New Ocean; NASA SP-4201

Space Almanac - 2nd Edition

Deke! - Slayton/Cassutt

Apollo Expeditions to the Moon; NASA SP-350 (1975) Edited by Edgar M. Cortright TL789.8.U6A513 629.45'4 75-600071

Apollo 11-17 Voice Transcripts Pertaining to the Geology of the Landing Site by N.G. Bailey and G.E. Ulrich, USGS

Web Sites Referenced:

APOLLO Lunar Surface Journal (Edited by Eric M. Jones)

National Air and Space Museum - Apollo Manned Space Program

NASA Kennedy Space Center - Historical Archive

 Apollo Anthology
 The Mercury, Gemini & Apollo Missions (links to resources)

 The Apollo Society

 The Delphi Project
 Education Program
 Membership Program
The Apollo Society is a non-profit educational and scientific research organization dedicated to the advancement of space exploration and the establishment of human communities beyond Earth.

The Apollo Society
P.O. Box 61206
Honolulu, Hawaii 96839-1206


(c) 2000 by The Apollo Society. All rights reserved.