Channeling the American Spirit - How America Got to the Moon

Channeling the American Spirit - How America Got to the Moon

Life in the 1950s was simple.

World War II was in the rearview mirror, and Americans were starting to adjust to something called the “Cold War.” It was a high-tension period between the United States and the former Soviet Union as everything between the two countries became a race – a race toward nuclear weapons, secret intelligence capabilities, and to see who could conquer space first. 


In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the world when they successfully launched the first unmanned satellite into space. 

Sputnik, which is Russian for “traveler,” orbited the planet, putting the Soviets first out of the gates.

Americans did not take this well, and President Eisenhower refused to be passive as the Russians began to take over the United States’ global role in exploring new frontiers. 

So, a year later, in 1958, Eisenhower launched a new organization that would take us into the cosmos – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 


1958 continued as an innovative year when America launched Explorer I into space. Although it was a successful mission, the U.S. still found itself a year behind the Russians, and this did not sit well. 

In April of 1961, the Soviets did it again. They were the first ones to put a man into orbit. It happened on Vostok 1, and Yuri Gagarin enjoyed the craziest ride any man had taken to date. 

At this point, something had to be done. The folks at NASA were not merely perturbed, annoyed, or irritated. Nope, they were flat out enraged. 

How could the United States continue to lose and watch the Russian rocket trails in the sky while they were left to figure out how they did it? 

Sure, Alan Shepard became the first American in space the next month in May of 1961, but he did not even make it into orbit. 

Time out! 

Have you ever wondered why our country is known throughout the world to have a chip on its shoulder? 

Why in every Olympics, we make the top ranks of the medal count? We possess this thing about us.

Deep in our bellies, we as Americans FIGHT. We dig, scratch, claw, and grind. This notion of pushing forward at all costs comes from our American Heritage. 

It was present when 56 men signed their death sentence on a piece of parchment on July 4, 1776, telling their mother country to take a hike. 

This spirit of righteous indignation is what the space-race began to stoke, and our new, young president was eager to pour gas on that fire. Not long after Alan Shepard splashed back to earth, President John F. Kennedy cast the most audacious vision of the 20th century – the United States would land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. 

At this point, it was game on and the pressure mounted as NASA was all hands on deck. Unfortunately, our race to the moon was not perfect, and we experienced some significant casualties. 

Eight men died in preparation for the Gemini and Apollo missions including Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, and Edward White during a training exercise for Apollo 1 due to a fire within the spacecraft cabin. 

With America's resilience, NASA continued channeling the American spirit and pushed on. 

1968 saw Apollo 8 become the first manned space mission to orbit the moon, but no one had yet to land on it. Time was running out, and the U.S. was not about to let the Russians leap ahead this time.

On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins ignited their powerful Saturn V rocket off a Cape Canaveral launch pad destined for the moon. 

Their sole focus was accomplishing President Kennedy’s vision – the first lunar landing. After hurtling through space for four days, it was time. 

On July 20, 1969, the team safely landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong crawled out of the lunar module, and uttered those famous words to the world, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

Neil's small step brought the United States past the finish line, winning the space race against the Soviets, and accomplishing Kennedy’s vision. 

Unfortunately, President Kennedy was not alive to see it. It was a moment of heavy historical significance that few forget. 

If you watch the old news footage, you will notice that even news anchor Walter Cronkite can barely speak. Ask someone that lived through the 1960s what their strongest memories were and the top three will be the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the moon landing. 

We cannot fully understand the weight of that moment, as people all over the globe experienced this unbelievable achievement of American ingenuity and the historical significance of this event. American pride grew which was sorely missing in the era of Vietnam and the turbulent '60s. The success was considered nearly miraculous from a scientific and engineering standpoint.

The recent movie, Hidden Figures, does a powerful job of exploring that despite our country's civil rights issues, when the moment called for our best, we delivered. 

moon landing

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil’s boots leaving the first footprints on the surface of the moon, I encourage you to experience the American spirit. What would happen, if we all lived like we were part of the greatest nation in the world and believed it? 

Would we see less crime, less hate, better race relations, greater innovation, and real solutions to our world’s biggest problems? 

I would like to think we would, and at the end of the day, you and I would be part of the solution. I have a hunch that maybe that sort of unity, spirit, tenacity, and grit could take us pretty far. 

How far, you ask? To the moon and back. 



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