Eight years elapsed between the time the first man was sent into space and the historic day in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge in 1961 that the United States (and therefore NASA) would land on the moon before the end of that decade. President Kennedy then added $126 million to NASA's budget [source: Webb].
Other Apollo missions served as preparations for lunar travel and landing. For example, the crews of Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 flew to the moon, then around it, before returning to Earth. During those years and missions, astronauts, engineers and all of NASA learned how to:
- Construct space suits
- Build and control multistage spacecraft
- Operate rocket engines in the vacuum of space with a lack of gravity
- Attach and detach the lunar module from the Apollo 11 while in orbit
- Land on the moon and take off from it afterward
- Most importantly, get the crew to the moon and back safely
Even before the Apollo missions, NASA's Mercury program practiced getting astronauts into orbit around the Earth and back, and the Gemini missions helped NASA gain experience with docking, space suits and walking around in space. Early Apollo missions even tested beaming live telecasts back to Earth, which was good preparation for live feeds from the 1969 lunar landing.
The Apollo 11 mission made use of all this accumulated knowledge. Neil Armstrong -- the first man to step on the moon -- and Buzz Aldrin spent 21 hours on the moon's surface and took photos, did experiments and gathered about 46 pounds (21 kilograms) of moon rocks to bring back to Earth. They then docked the lunar module back with the command module, piloted by Michael Collins [source: NASA 35th Anniversary].
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