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Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. descends from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module to become the second human to walk on the Moon. Neil A. Armstrong, who took this photograph, was the commander of the mission and the first to walk on the lunar surface.
The singular achievement of NASA during its early years involved the human exploration of the Moon, Project Apollo. Apollo became a NASA priority on May 25 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced "I believe that 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 Earth." A direct response to Soviet successes in space, Kennedy used Apollo as a high-profile effort for the U.S. to demonstrate to the world its scientific and technological superiority over its cold war adversary.
In response to the Kennedy decision, NASA was consumed with carrying out Project Apollo and spent the next 11 years doing so. This effort required significant expenditures, costing $25.4 billion over the life of the program, to make it a reality. Only the building of the Panama Canal rivaled the size of the Apollo program as the largest nonmilitary technological endeavor ever undertaken by the United States; only the Manhattan Project was comparable in a wartime setting. Although there were major challenges and some failures - notably a January 27, 1967 fire in an Apollo capsule on the ground that took the lives of astronauts Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Edward H. White Jr. Jr. - the program moved forward inexorably.
Less than two years later, in October 1968, NASA bounced back with the successful Apollo 7 mission, which orbited the Earth and tested the redesigned Apollo command module. The Apollo 8 mission, which orbited the Moon on December 24-25, 1968, when its crew read from the book of Genesis, was another crucial accomplishment on the way to the Moon.
"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil A. Armstrong uttered these famous words on July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 mission fulfilled Kennedy's challenge by successfully landing Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. on the Moon. Armstrong dramatically piloted the lunar module to the lunar surface with less than 30 seconds worth of fuel remaining. After taking soil samples, photographs, and doing other tasks on the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin rendezvoused with their colleague Michael Collins in lunar orbit for a safe voyage back to Earth.
Five more successful lunar landing missions followed. The Apollo 13 mission of April 1970 attracted the public's attention when astronauts and ground crews had to improvise to end the mission safely after an oxygen tank burst midway through the journey to the Moon. Although this mission never landed on the Moon, it reinforced the notion that NASA had a remarkable ability to adapt to the unforeseen technical difficulties inherent in human spaceflight.
With the Apollo 17 mission of December 1972, NASA completed a successful engineering and scientific program. Fittingly, Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, a geologist who participated on this mission, was the first scientist to be selected as an astronaut. NASA learned a good deal about the origins of the Moon, as well as how to support humans in outer space. In total, 12 astronauts walked on the Moon during 6 Apollo lunar landing missions.
In 1975, NASA cooperated with the Soviet Union to achieve the first international human spaceflight, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). This project successfully tested joint rendezvous and docking procedures for spacecraft from the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. After being launched separately from their respective countries, the Apollo and Soyuz crews met in space and conducted various experiments for two days.
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