Space Exploration Milestones: The Moon

The USSR had a lot of firsts in space exploration, but the United States did best the cosmonauts in one achievement. In this article, you will learn more about the milestone that has become a rather iconic historic event for America.

First Manned Spacecraft to Orbit the Moon

It was a merry Christmas for the crew of Apollo 8, as the United States became the first to man a spacecraft to orbit the Moon. On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, but did not make an attempt to land. Less than one year later, the first Moon landing would take place. After the launch of the spacecraft on December 21, 1968, it took Apollo 8 three days to travel to the Moon. During the course of 20 hours, the craft orbited ten times.

During the Apollo 11 landing, Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2½ hours On Christmas Eve, the crew made a TV broadcast where they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At that time, the broadcast became the most watched ever. The Apollo 8 mission led the way for future exploration. The Apollo 11 mission would later fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

First Landing on the Moon

Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first men to land on the Moon on July 20, 1969 aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was in the United States Navy and served in the Korean War. Following the war, he served as a test pilot at a flight station , logging in more than 900 flights using a variety of aircraft. Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong announced that he was not going to fly into space again. He spent some time teaching afterwards and served on several different boards of directors and committees.  

Buzz Aldrin had his own first in space exploration when he became the first to hold a religious ceremony on the Moon. Following his landing on the Moon, Aldrin radioed Earth and said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He use a pastor’s home kit to give himself Communion on the surface of the Moon but kept this a secret due to a lawsuit brought on by an atheist.

First American Woman in Space

Sally Ride is well known in astronaut history as being the first woman from the United States to fly into space. Ride traveled aboard the space shuttle Challenger STS-7, which was also a first in space exploration as the first reusable space vehicle. This launch took place on June 18, 1983. The physicist became a part of NASA in 1978, and when she went into space in 1983, she was the then-youngest American (at the age of 32) to enter space. In 1987, Ride left NASA to take a position at Stanford University working at the Center for International Security and Arms Control.