Apollo 11: One Giant Leap for Mankind

U.S. National Archives

In the late 1950s the United States watched the Soviet Union take the lead in the rapidly escalating space race. The Soviet lead was both embarrassing and menacing to a nation that prided itself on technological know-how. On May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade, he struck a responsive chord with the American people.

Photograph of the Apollo 11 Crew, National Archives at Fort Worth, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

The Apollo program, created to meet the goal of landing men on the Moon, enlisted 20,000 companies, hundreds of thousands of individuals, and some 25.5 billion dollars. On July 20, 1969, astronauts of the Apollo 11 Mission became the first humans to set foot on the Moon. The Moon landing was a stunning achievement that commanded world attention.

Memorandum from Speechwriter William Safire to President Nixon, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969-07-18, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

On July 20, 1969, the eyes of the world watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon. Just minutes after landing on the Moon, astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin received a phone call from President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, with congratulations on behalf of the American people. President Nixon described this as “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

President Richard Nixon Speaking by Telephone to the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the Moon, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969-07-20, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
Oval Office Telephone, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
Split Screen of President Richard Nixon and the Apollo XI Astronauts on a White House Television, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969-07-20, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

"The President held an interplanetary conversation with Apollo 11 Astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the Moon."
--President Richard Nixon's Daily Diary, July 20, 1969

Presidential Daily Diary Entry, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969-07-20, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

Three days later, President Nixon personally greeted the three astronauts aboard the U.S.S. Hornet at the splashdown site in the Pacific Ocean. Due to concerns about the astronauts potentially being contaminated during their time in outer space, they were first kept in a modified Airstream trailer that served as a mobile quarantine facility before spending the remainder of the 21-day quarantine period at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas.

Photographs of President Richard Nixon Greeting the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the USS Hornet, National Archives at College Park - Still Pictures, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
Apollo Lunar Module Scale Model, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

Scale model of the Apollo XI Lunar Module. It was presented to President Richard Nixon by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation.

NASA Goodwill Messages Silicone Disc in Presentation Box, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969-08, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

This artifact is a duplicate of the NASA silicone disc containing goodwill messages that was left on the moon by the Apollo XI astronauts.

Postcard with Apollo 11 Commemorative First Day Issue Stamp and Signatures, Richard Nixon Presidential Library, 1969, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives

All subsequent lunar landings happened during the Nixon administration, and Richard Nixon remains the only president with his name on a plaque on the lunar surface.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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