The Legacy of Apollo Mission and Neil Armstrong in the Space Exploration
The 1960s was a volatile decade dominated by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights unrest, Cuban Missile Crisis, assassination of both JFK and Martin Luther King Jr, and the exploration of a new frontier-space. In 1962, a newly elected President Kennedy would help the space program blossom over the next 10 years. In a rousing speech given in Houston, Texas, President Kennedy called for Americans to support the new Apollo program, which had several goals including the mission to land a man on the Moon; although it was a profound speech, many individuals were perturbed by the Apollo program, especially about its cost.1 At the same time of the Apollo program, a wave of social revolution started, which bucked up against the conservative social norms, such as: materialism, war, racism, and sexualism.2 This new development would greatly impact Americans’ support for the Apollo program throughout the decade.
NASA’s Apollo program was developed during the Cold War, which was a critical time period in the United States. At the time, the US was competing with the other world superpower, the Soviet Union, in the space race. So far, the Soviet Union had achieved many firsts, for example, Sputnik, first man in space, and first woman in space. The United States seemed to be behind the Soviet Union in the space race. Therefore, one of the goals of the Apollo program was to land a man on the Moon. Something the Soviet Union had not accomplished. However, this program was created at the same time as the social revolution. The cost of the program was astronomical, 20 billion, which many social movements saw as ridiculous, especially since there were many important issues in need of address back at home, such as: homeless, housing, and hunger.4 With this social change, the support of the Apollo program is starting to diminish throughout the 1960s.
Many individuals today have a preconceived notion about the Moon landing. It is believed that Apollo was greatly supported by Americans and helped unite the country during a tumultuous time; however, that is not historically accurate. During the 1960s many polls’ results showed less than 50 percent of individuals supported the Apollo program. Following the landing on the Moon, one poll did show an increase to 53 percent, but it was the only time a poll showed favor towards the Apollo program. Of the polls, one particular question asked, “Would you favor or oppose U.S. government spending to send astronauts to the Moon?”5 In many of the cases, including the height of the Apollo program, a majority of Americans opposed the government using money on the Moon. In addition, multiple polls from 1965-1968 demonstrated up to 40 percent of individuals preferring to cut space funding versus 14 percent wanting a funding increase.6 These poll results help identify the decrease in support and the dislike of cost involved with the Apollo program throughout the 1960s. It appears that individuals wanted the government to focus on social issues rather than the race against the Soviet Union to the Moon. In addition, support for the lunar landing has increased with every year that passes, for example, in 1989, 77 percent of Americans supported the mission.
Ultimately, the majority of Americans support for the Apollo program diminished through the 1960s. In fact, the United States has not returned to the Moon following the dismemberment of the Apollo program in 1972.8 In addition, the multiple social movements raised awareness to other issues that may have benefitted from the money spent on the race to the Moon. Furthermore, to many, the financial cost of the program was not worth the landing. Therefore, landing on the Moon was an amazing feat; however, it was not supported by the majority of Americans.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. A huge achievement in the twentieth century. When Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the Moon in 1969, it accomplished the mission that NASA and President Kennedy dreamed about in the early 60s. Prior to manned space flight, the idea of space exploration was considered science fiction but with the Apollo program it became reality. In addition, the Apollo program helped America beat the Soviet Union to the Moon. An important aspect of the program, especially since it was during the Cold War period.9 The legacy of the Apollo program is important to the nation and space exploration.
The Apollo program was not only about landing on the Moon. The other goals included technological, scientific, and medical advancements. If it was not for the program, technological advancements, such as: software, heat-resistant suits, security systems, and solar panels may not have been invented until years later. Some of the medical advancements were automatic internal defibrillator, programmable pacemaker, and dialysis. Although, NASA did not create these advancements. The technologies created by the Apollo program were used to develop these different advancements.10 Scientific advancements were made from the Moon rock brought back by the astronauts. Prior to obtaining the new evidence, scientists debated about the Moon’s formation and history; however, by studying the Moon rocks it was clear that the Moon did have volcanic activity. In addition, the rocks helped prove many other hypotheses, such as: the date of the Moon. The scientific discoveries from the Apollo 11 mission changed the future of the program. Prior to Apollo 11, scientific studies were not a top priority in the program; however, following Apollo 11 future missions were tasked with different scientific investigations and explorations.11 A concept still seen today on the International Space Station.
Overall, the legacy of the Apollo program is evident in the different technological advancements, the Cold War success of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, and the achievement of landing on the Moon. Ultimately, the discontinuation of the Apollo program stalled further exploration of space; however, the legacy of the Apollo program lives on in an individual’s imagination to change an idea and dream to an unbelievable reality.
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