NASA 50th Part Three

The space race was over. Russia won. And Americans felt demoralized. But President John F. Kennedy made a radical promise to the nation — within a decade an American astronaut would walk on the moon. Laurie Johnson has this report on the moon landing — in part three of our series on NASA's 50th Anniversary.

"You want the world of tomorrow, Alice? You want the world of tomorrow? I'll give you the world of tomorrow. You're going to the moon!"

Little did Jackie Gleason know that less than a decade after The Honeymooners, President John F Kennedy would make the same pledge.

image President John F Kennedy of September 12, 1962 at Rice UniversitySeptember 12, 1962 at Rice University.

"But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon...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."

"When President Kennedy made a speech saying we're going to go put a man on the moon, bring him home in the decade — we did that in eight years!"


image of Johnson Space Center Director Michael CoatsJohnson Space Center Director Michael Coats.

"And you gotta remember we started from scratch. There was no infrastructure for space. We literally started from scratch and built huge rockets — the Saturn V rockets — and came up with an idea and literally went to the moon in eight years."

"President of the United States rose up and challenged the people to do the impossible and we did it."

Retired Astronaut Gene Cernan was a Navy pilot at the time.

"You know I heard him just like everybody else and I said is he a dreamer? A visionary? Is he politically astute? Maybe he's all three, we'll never know. But I just...I didn't dismiss it, but I...well it's somewhere out there someone may do it some day, but it ain't gonna happen very soon."

image of Astronaut Gene Cernan Ten years later Cernan would become the last man ever to walk on the moon.

Eleven others went before him. On July 20th, 1969 the entire nation focused on one man.

"Tranquility Base here. The eagle has landed."
"Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

"We were all listening to the radios when it happened, and it was almost surreal. Everything kind of stopped, I don't know about the rest of the world, where I was everything just kind of stopped. And I...are we really...has man really just stepped foot on the moon?"

"Ok, I'm going to step off the LM now. That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

image of Gene Cernan as the last man on the moonNeil Armstrong was the first moonwalker. Gene Cernan was the last. But Cernan says he hopes he won't always be able to claim that legacy.

"Let me put it this way, I stood on the shoulders of giants as I reached for the moon. Now I'd like to be those shoulders that future generations stand on as they reach for the stars."

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.


 

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...