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On 40th Anniversary, Moon Landing Examined

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The moon has inspired people to dream for thousands of years, but it wasn't until May 1961 that a U.S. president turned a dream into a national objective.

(Soundbite of archived audio)

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: 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 the Earth.

BRAND: President John F. Kennedy's address to Congress made a bold request and Congress accepted the challenge. And with that, the race to the moon was on.

SIEGEL: Over the next half dozen years, astronauts, in capsules on top of rockets, went step-by-step, blast-by-blast toward that lunar goal. By July 16th, 1969, the U.S. was set to complete the mission with Apollo 11.

Unidentified Man: Ten, nine, ignition sequence starts. Six, five, four, three, two, one, zero. All engine running. Lift-off, we have a lift-off. Thirty-two minutes past the hour, lift-off on Apollo 11.

(Soundbite of engine roaring)

BRAND: Forty years ago today, July 20th at 3:17 p.m. Eastern, the astronauts landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong was at the doorway.

(Soundbite of archived audio)

Mr. NEIL ARMSTRONG (Astronaut): The surface appears to be very, very fine grain as you get close to it. It's almost like a powder. Now and then, it's very fine.

SIEGEL: Armstrong, in a bulky white spacesuit, slowly descended a ladder and took stock of his surroundings.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

BRAND: President Richard Nixon was in office. President Kennedy had been assassinated years before. So, it was President Nixon who made a congratulatory call to Armstrong and his fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the surface of the moon.

(Soundbite of archived audio)

President RICHARD M. NIXON: Hello, Neil and Buzz. I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

SIEGEL: After their safe return to Earth, there were ticker tape parades for the astronauts and all manner of honors over the years. Last night, in Washington, D.C., Neil Armstrong looked back on those times in a rare public appearance. And for a certified national hero, Armstrong was modest about his and NASA's historic achievement.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: History is a sequence of random events and unpredictable choices, which is why the future is so difficult to foresee.

BRAND: Nevertheless, there are dreams. President Barack Obama talked about them at the White House today with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

President BARACK OBAMA: As we speak, another generation of kids out there who are looking up at the sky and are going to be the next Armstrong, Collins and Aldrins, and we want to make sure that NASA is going to be there for them when they want to take their journey.

SIEGEL: President Barack Obama with Apollo 11 astronauts at the White House today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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