Reaching the Moon: The History of the NASA Programs that Led to the Successful Apollo Missions

Reaching the Moon: The History of the NASA Programs that Led to the Successful Apollo Missions

Narrated by:
Jim Walsh
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Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
March 2024
6 hours 5 minutes
The Apollo Program is the most famous and celebrated in American history, but the first successful landing of men on the Moon during Apollo 11 had complicated roots dating back over a decade, and it also involved one of NASA’s most infamous tragedies. From 1959-1963, the United States worked toward putting satellites and humans into orbit via the Mercury program, but Eisenhower’s administration was already designing plans for the Apollo program by 1960, a year before the first Russian orbited the Earth and two years before John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

At the same time, America would begin missions to the Moon as early as 1958. On March 27, 1958, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy announced a lunar project for the International Geophysical Year, consisting of three Air Force launches followed by two Army launches of a JPL-designed lunar probe. ARPA directed the Air Force to launch its probes 'as soon as possible consistent with the requirement that a minimal amount of useful data concerning the Moon be obtained.'

Throughout the 1960s, NASA would spend tens of billions on missions to the Moon, the most expensive peacetime program in American history to that point, and Apollo was only made possible by the tests conducted through earlier missions, including the historic Ranger Program. Conceived as an early part of the attempt to land a man on the Moon, Ranger was designed to photograph the lunar surface in preparation for future landings. Until Ranger, images of the Moon were only available through Earth-based telescopes, which lacked the detail necessary to determine safe sites for landing a spacecraft. Ranger aimed to fill in that gap of knowledge, and like many of NASA’s missions during the 1960s, the program exemplified both the successes and the failures of the agency’s early years.
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