American Experience


Chasing the Moon, Part 1

“Chasing the Moon,” a film by Robert Stone, reimagines the race to the moon for a new generation, upending much of the conventional mythology surrounding the effort.

AIRED: July 08, 2019 | 1:52:55

(cars rushing past)

MARK BLOOM: We had to be at the Cape real early.

And got in the car, start heading out for the Cape.

Huge crowds!

The roads-- you couldn't get through.

And I began to think,

"I'm not even going to get there in time."

WALTER CRONKITE: The goal is the moon,

perhaps man's oldest dream.

If all goes well, some 112 hours and 50 minutes after liftoff,

Neil Armstrong will step on the lunar surface.

It shows what this, the richest nation in history,

can do when it puts its mind to it.

JOHN LOGSDON: My very first launch was Apollo 11.


I had a press pass, and so I was there

and had access.

I went up 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning,

stood by the operations building,

and watched these three guys walk by me

on the way to the moon.

That's like seeing Columbus sail out of port.

FRANK MCGEE: We all realize that this is the beginning

of the most audacious undertaking

that man has ever attempted.

BLOOM: Historically, man going to the moon--

that was an amazing thing.

The question was whether this would represent a cosmic quest

that mankind is going to pursue as a destiny.

ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for a man.

One giant leap for mankind.

(helicopter rotors droning)

("Wait" by M83 playing)

(talking in background, applauding)

RALPH ABERNATHY: We may go on from this day to Mars and to Jupiter,

and even to the heavens beyond,

but as long as racism, poverty,

hunger, and war

prevail on the Earth,

we as a civilized nation have failed.

("Wait" continues)

HEYWOOD BROUN: Some of us think

that the tremendous interest in space travel

is, in a sense,

a search for another Eden--

that man has a kind of guilt

about the world in which he lives

and that he has despoiled the place where he is,

and that perhaps he ought, now in his maturity,

to set out to find another place,

a place which man could go to,

leaving behind the rusty cage

in which his own mistakes have held him.

("Wait" continues)

JACK KING: Four minutes and counting, we are a go for Apollo 11.

Firing command coming in now,

we are on the automatic sequence.

THEO KAMECKE: I was standing near the giant windows

in the launch control center

right alongside Wernher von Braun

and the other people who were responsible for it.

KING: Ten, nine, ignition sequence start,

six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.

(engines roaring)

Liftoff, we have a liftoff...

KAMECKE: I was thinking, "What a wonderful animal we are,

"that we could dream up this

"and get ourselves off this planet that we were born on

and off to another world."

♪ No time

MISSION CONTROL (on radio): Apollo 11, Houston,

you're good at one minute.

♪ No time

POPPY NORTHCUTT: One of the joys

about the space program--

everybody felt they had a piece of it,

and they did.

MISSION CONTROL: Velocity 2,195 feet per second.

♪ No time

♪ No time

MISSION CONTROL: We're through the region of maximum dynamic pressure now.

ERIC SEVAREID: This is just the beginning, perhaps,

of a new stage in the evolution of the species--

something comparable

to the crawling of the first amphibian creature

out of the primeval swamp onto dry land.

♪ Oh

♪ Oh

DAVID BRINKLEY: The astronauts are talking to the ground

and reporting on the facts and figures of the flight,

and somebody here a minute ago was saying

they are as matter-of-fact and unexcited and calm

as if they were taxicab drivers reporting in

and saying, "We're on Maple Street

headed for downtown."

(device beeping, "Wait" continues)

MISSION CONTROL: What's your staging status?

LAUNCH CONTROL: Houston, you are go for staging.

(device beeps)

("Wait" continues)

♪ Oh

KING: The circumstances were such that we had the nation behind us,

everybody was sitting on the edge of their seat,

and the awe of the first time we did it--

something you never forget.

("Wait" continues)

MISSION CONTROL: Standing by for the outboard engine...

("Wait" ends)


Until two days ago,

that sound had never been heard on this Earth.

Suddenly it has become as much a part of 20th-century life

as the whir of your vacuum cleaner.

It's a report from man's farthest frontier,

the radio signal transmitted by the Soviet Sputnik,

the first man-made satellite

as it passed over New York earlier today.

Right now, it's over Auckland, New Zealand.

According the latest Soviet announcement,

the satellite is still maintaining its speed

of 18,000 miles an hour,

meeting no resistance 560 miles out in space.

The Russians say it'll be joined by another very shortly,

and there will be advance notice this time.

What the Sputnik signal means we still don't know.

The Russians haven't said anything about that.

Our own experts haven't found any coded information in it.

The sound may be no more than a means of identification,

a way to keep track of the beach-ball-sized metal sphere

as it hurtles around the world 16 times every day,

a dozen times faster than any man has ever flown.

ED BUCKBEE: The night that Sputnik was launched,

I was on the newspaper desk,

and lo and behold, the flash came across,

"Russia has launched Sputnik."

And we couldn't figure out the spelling of Sputnik,

we couldn't figure out what Sputnik meant.

That was the first indication that I had

that there was some serious stuff going on in space.

JOHN GLENN: Uh, this is really quite an advancement

for not only the Russians, but for international science.

I think we all agree on that.

It's the first time anybody has ever been able

to get anything out that far in space

and keep it there for any length of time.

Do you admire the Russians for doing it,

or no? No, definitely not.

I think we should have been the first ones to have it,

if there is such a thing.

It gets the American people alarmed

that a foreign country,

especially an enemy country, can do this.

It... we fear this.

We fear that they have something out

that majority of the people don't know about.

BUCKBEE: I thought, "We must be at war."

ROGER LAUNIUS: It's hard to appreciate

how truly desperate this rivalry was,

with competing economic and political systems,

each out to destroy the other.

Let's not fool ourselves,

this may be our last chance to provide the means

of saving Western civilization from annihilation.

LAUNIUS: This was not an attack on the United States.

This was a scientific satellite launched into orbit.

But it does suggest that the Soviet Union has a rocket

that is powerful enough to send a nuclear weapon

to the United States.

(siren blaring)

I mean, we honestly believed

that we could be annihilated with nuclear weapons

at any time.

When I was in elementary school,

we would have duck-and-cover exercises

and crawl under our desks

like that would protect us from a nuclear blast.

(explosion roars)

Well, I think the Russians are ahead of us in some respects,

and I think their achievements are rather remarkable,

but there, there's no reason for panic,

because there's never any solution in panic.

Progress is going to result only from bold decisions

that are made by cool heads.

(bell tolling)

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Before the launch,

my father did not show too big interest to the Sputnik.

But next day, when my father realized American reaction,

the shock and the fear,

next day, it was all headlines in the Soviet newspapers:

"We Are the First!"

Yes, we were surprised,

the same like everybody was surprised.

And all the Soviet people want to show America

that we are ahead of them, not only me or my father.

Good afternoon.

A dog knocked a goat right out of the world's attention today.

In a masterpiece of propaganda timing,

the Soviet Union announced

it had launched Sputnik Number Two,

carrying a live dog.

Confirmed now by Anglo-American scientists,

the rocket that launched Sputnik Number Two

is capable of carrying

a ton-and-a-half hydrogen bomb warhead

more than 5,000 miles to a target.

KHRUSHCHEV: So it was second satellite

that would launch with the dog in orbit.

We wanted to see what will be the conditions

of the first man in space.

Mentally, will he be stable?

But what was inside the dog's head,

we don't know.

And now, the Russians are talking

about shooting up something that will hit the moon

and possibly even make some kind of mark on it,

visible from the Earth,

the kind of thing that a month ago

would have sounded like a joke.

But in Washington now, anyone who cares to laugh at this

does so at his own risk.

JOHNSON: It took the Soviets four years

to catch up with the atomic bomb.

It took the Soviets nine months

to catch up with the hydrogen bomb.

And now the Communists have established a foothold

in outer space.

It is not very reassuring to be told

that next year, we will put a better satellite into the air.

Perhaps it will even have chrome trim

and automatic windshield wipers.

LAUNIUS: The Sputnik event sparked a political response,

and Lyndon Johnson, who at that point

was the senior person in the U.S. Senate,

took the lead in making this a national security issue.

I'm convinced that the Russian concept,

that's, as demonstrated by Sputnik Number Two

carrying this animal, is very clear.

They consider the control of space around the Earth

very much like, shall we say, the great maritime powers

considered the control of the seas

in the 16th through the 18th century.

And they say if we want to control this planet,

we have to control the space around it.


(device making blooping noise)


(blooping continues)

LAUNIUS: Wernher von Braun was certainly motivated

by this desire to explore the heavens,

no question about that.

But he spent the bulk of his life

building ballistic missiles-- weapons of war--

rather than vehicles of exploration.

VON BRAUN: So as the target finally comes in view--

see, this is a target--

the space station will still be overhead,

and the missile will be here.

So as long as you see the object

and can keep track of your missile

by means of a radar beacon, you can shoot at it,

even if you don't know the exact location

and even if it's a moving target.

LOGSDON: Von Braun, to the public, was a very charismatic figure,

very well-known.

He had proposed to launch a small satellite.

He pushed, saying, "I could do it.

Let me do it before Sputnik."

And the answer came back, "No,

"we don't want you to be the front person

in the first U.S. space launch,"

because von Braun was making weapons.

President Eisenhower decided it was the Navy

and its Vanguard project that was going to be

the first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite,

and, "We're not going to change our mind

just to beat the Soviets into space."

This is a third-stage rocket motor

that fits into the nose cone of the entire Vanguard vehicle.

When this motor reaches orbital altitude,

the nose cone separates,

and the antennae fall into place.

I'm very pleased

to be associated with the Vanguard project,

and all of us here at Grand Central

are looking forward with a great deal of enthusiasm

and anticipation to the firing of the satellite.

This is Charles von Fremd reporting from Cape Canaveral.

Reporters and photographers have gathered here

throughout the night and early morning.

Now it is almost noon.

We expect the Project Vanguard missile

carrying the first United States Earth satellite

to be launched momentarily.

(alarm blaring)

(radio squawking)

RALPH RENICK: It hasn't left the ground yet.

MAN: Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

(engines roaring)

And there she goes,

the Vanguard missile is in the air.

We see a tremendous cloud of flames.

(explosions roaring)

I don't see it.

I think the launching has been unsuccessful.

There's no trace of the missile in the sky.

(fire crackling, explosions popping)

RENICK: Well, you have just witnessed

what will undoubtedly be a severe propaganda defeat

for this country,

$110 million having been spent on the project so far.

I don't view this situation

as one in which we should get emotionally aroused

to a fever pitch.

I think we are embarked on an orderly,

well-thought-out program, which is producing results

in the defense of the United States.

We are not looking for headlines.

We have not been trying to get in first on headline situations.

BUCKBEE: My job was public relations.

I graduated with a journalism degree

and a commission in the United States Army.

And guess where they sent me?

Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

And I went to work in the public affairs office,

and that was the beginning of my career with von Braun.

Von Braun was there with his missile team,

and they were preparing to launch a satellite.

MAN: Eight, seven, six, five...

REPORTER: The United States is ready

to try and place its first Earth satellite

into orbit.

And there is a sudden, tremendous burst of flame.

We can see the Jupiter-C missile on its way.

BUCKBEE: They modified a Red Stone rocket,

called it Jupiter-C, and launched Explorer-1,

and we were in space.

And all of a sudden, von Braun and his team were heroes.

Von Braun, of course, was very popular with the press.

When the press heard von Braun was going to speak,

they showed up.

You know, he was, he was the rocket man.

Now, we separated here

and aligned this nose section alone

in the horizontal attitude.

LOGSDON: But inside the government,

he was, first of all, a pain in the ass.

Difficult to deal with, a prima donna.

And the government was well aware

of his background under Hitler

and his possible engagement with the SS

and being a registered Nazi.

Heil Hitler.

My dear Dr. von Braun,

I want to congratulate you and to thank you.

It's a remarkable achievement.

Thank you, sir.

But it's only the beginning.

We have always known that a German scientist

will someday invent a weapon which will give us victory.

And now, about the future. Yes?

You will want mass production for your rockets.

FREEMAN DYSON: Von Braun was enormously important,

and, and Hitler of course supported him,

which was again a miracle,

because nothing that von Braun wanted to do

actually was what Hitler wanted.

The V-2 rocket came right at the end of the war,

and we all knew that it was total waste of money,

as far as the Germans were concerned.

But somehow von Braun bamboozled Hitler

into giving him everything he wanted.

(explosions roar)

He just was extremely capable.

So I think he did really advance the whole field,

very substantially.

Von Braun had this notion

that it was our destiny to go

and to take life away from the Earth all over the universe,

and clearly the way

we weren't going to stay stuck here forever.

And I felt the same way.

It was just obvious.

The V-2 was pointing the way.

As far as the war was concerned, they were dead last.

I was in London during World War II.

They killed a few people in London,

but did essentially no military damage.

We were still flying bombers over Germany,

and the Germans desperately needed fighter planes.

So we were delighted that some idiot had decided

to build these rockets instead of building fighter planes.

(machine gun firing)

BUCKBEE: At the end of World War II,

we had 2,000 intelligence people on the ground-- 2,000--

searching for technology.

"We're not going to worry about Nazis;

"we're going to go after scientists.

"We're going to get jet plane scientists,

"we're going to get artificial fuel scientists,

and we're going to get rocket and missile scientists."

They were building missiles way beyond our capability.

KHRUSHCHEV: Everything was based on the V-2,

because Americans were able

to bring all these most important German designers

to the United States, including Wernher von Braun.

By the way, Soviets tried to seduce Wernher von Braun

and told, "We will give you the cow,

you will have milk."


But he say, "No,

I, I will go better to the United States."

This decision was essentially not one of expediency

but a moral decision.

We knew that we had created

an extraordinary new weapon

with tremendous potentialities.

We had seen Germany in the claws of death,

and it was our intention to hand our new weapon over

to a nation of...

whose leaders, we felt, were governed

not by the laws of materialism,

but by the laws of Christianity and humanity.

This is one of the proudest

and most significant days in my life.

It's almost like getting married,

to become a citizen of the United States,

and I'm very, very happy about this.

BUCKBEE: His 120 German scientists that he brought to this country

basically became the mentors for us.

The whole three-stage rocket ship

stands 265 feet tall,

equivalent to the height of a 24-story office building.

LAUNIUS: In the early 1950s,

there was a flip in the public perception

of whether or not we were going to see space travel

in our lifetimes.

BUCKBEE: We began to see space articles.

"Collier's" was, was huge in those days.

That was the first time

that I recall seeing von Braun's name.

LAUNIUS: "Collier's" magazine was one

of these great weekly news magazines

that had millions of subscribers.

And they did a series of special articles

on the possibilities of space flight.

(movie fanfare playing)

This gets picked up by Walt Disney...

At Disneyland Park...

LAUNIUS: ...who views it as an opportunity

to enhance his theme parks.

DISNEY: One of the popular attractions here

is our simulated rocket trip around the moon.

BUCKBEE: The "Collier's" series inspired Walt Disney

to project this, this program to the public.

DISNEY: ...that space travelers of the future will encounter...

BUCKBEE: And so Walt Disney and von Braun sort of found each other

and worked on several films together.

This advance base, or space station,

will be headquarters for the final ascent to the moon.

Our space satellite will have the shape of a wheel,

measuring 200 feet across.

This outside rim will contain living and working quarters

for a crew of 50 men.

Just below the radio and radar antenna

is the atomic reactor.

Its heat will be used to drive a turbo generator,

which supplies the station with electricity.

BUCKBEE: You know, it began with filmmaking.

Von Braun went to Hollywood numerous times.

Certainly the film people,

script writers and so forth,

were constantly sending von Braun scripts

and getting his impressions,

particularly about the future.

(dramatic movie music playing)

By the grace of God,

and in the name of the United States of America,

I take possession of this planet

on behalf of and for the benefit of all mankind.

(movie score continues)

LAUNIUS: This is going to happen,

this is very close to the reality.

There is first and foremost the reality of success

associated with rocket development.

DYSON: I got involved with Project Orion,

and I got a call from the chief scientist

at a private company called General Atomic,

which is still around.

General Atomic was in the nuclear business.

I was known to him as a reactor designer.

And he called me up and said,

"Would you like to work on a crazy scheme?"

And I said, "Yes!"

The crazy idea was to build a spacecraft

driven by nuclear bombs.

(explosion echoes)

You had to blow off the bombs pretty fast,

blowing off two per second.

It was completely mad, but extremely practical.

To make the whole thing serious, to, to make it credible,

you had to do at least one nuclear test

with an actual bomb.

Everything depended on that,

and of course, we never got the funds for that first test.

(explosion echoes)

That was the breaking point.

MAN: Dr. von Braun,

in view of our rapid advances

in the field of atomic power,

do you feel that there is a possibility

of utilizing a series of small atomic explosions

to propel this rocket out into outer space?

I don't think atomic explosions...

DYSON: Orion, of course, was the competition for him,

but he was quite generous to us.

He gave us quite a lot of support.

We intended, if, if we'd got everything according to plan,

to have about 20 people on board for five years.

A year to get to Mars,

three years exploring Mars,

then after that, it would, you'd come home.

(gas hissing, small explosion pops)

We wanted to explore the universe.

(explosion pops)

(warbling and screeching)

(bell tolling)

KHRUSHCHEV: The success of the Sputnik brought attention

to the space research.

It became the priority,

engineering priority,

scientific priority,

and propagandist priority.

(crowd cheering)

The Soviets had some second-rank German engineers,

and they came to the Soviet Union,

and we started to develop missiles

in the same manner like in the United States,

using German brains and German knowledge.

The chief of our missile program,

his name was Korolyov.

Everything was under Korolyov's supervision.

But for Korolyov, these Germans were competitors.

And when Soviet officials asked Korolyov,

"Are these people valuable?"

And he told, "No.

Zero value, send them back to Germany."

So in 1955,

all these Germans, they return back to Germany.

After that, everything was directed by Korolyov.

It was big luck to the Americans,

because Korolyov was not a real scientist.

He was a very strong manager.

(speaking Russian)

KHRUSHCHEV: Korolyov, the same with the Wernher von Braun,

they want to be famous,

and they want to be first,

and they want to launch satellite.

"Who will be the most famous, me or him?"

After we are running as fast as they do,

there is still a considerable gap to close,

and only the future will tell

whether we'll manage to close that gap.

KHRUSHCHEV: You have to understand,

when they started to design this ICBM,

both Americans and Russians did not have thermonuclear warhead.

So they have to have preliminary calculation,

how heavy it will be,

and Americans calculated that it will be about two tons.

The Soviet nuclear program calculated

it will be about six ton, three time bigger.

And this make the Soviets build

this big, absolutely useless ICBM,

much bigger than American rockets,

but too expensive to be used as a weapon.

(fanfare playing)

ED HERLIHY: Vice President Nixon escorts Soviet Premier Khrushchev

on a preview of the United States Fair

at Sokolniki Park in Moscow.

But on this occasion,

traditional diplomacy goes behind the board,

and the story of the fair itself is eclipsed

by a crackling exchange between Nixon and Khrushchev,

begun off camera

and finished off

before the American Ampex color video tape recorders.

Every aspect of the Cold War and Soviet-American rivalry

is argued in blunt and forthright terms--

the threat of atomic warfare, diplomacy by ultimatum,

economic progress.

(Nikita Khrushchev speaking in Russian)

HERLIHY: Says Mr. K, "The Soviet will overtake America

and then wave, 'Bye-bye.'"

(crowd laughing, applauding)

KHRUSHCHEV: In 1959, we have only two missiles.

We were defenseless.

The missile gap was a bluff.

There are some instances where you may be ahead of us.

For example, in the development of your...

of the rest of your rockets

or the investigation of outer space.

There may be some instances,

for example, color television,

where we're ahead of you.


KHRUSHCHEV: Our ICBM is not as good

as we're trying to sell it to the world.

But it was very good

for the launching people

and launching satellites.

The space launcher that's still in service

after 60 years, the basic idea the same.

Sometimes the bad luck giving you more success.

All the information about who is responsible

for the space achievements,

it was secret.

Korolyov was kept secret, because everything was secret.

It not bother anybody except Korolyov himself,

because he wanted to be in public.


Dr. von Braun, what is the next project

or experiment in your field

of rocket research?

Well, we are devoting part of our time, of course,

to the development of Project Mercury,

which is sponsored

by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The object of this program is to put a man in orbit, for which

an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile

will be used as a carrier.

Now, we play the first part in this program,

in that we will provide some limited rides

over ballistic trajectories of a few hundred miles' range

to these astronauts to give them a little inkling

of what space flight is like.

(talking in background)

MAN: Take your pictures at, at will, gentlemen.

Take pictures now.

(talking in background)

Please, all sit down.

It's my pleasure to introduce to you,

and I consider it a very real honor, gentlemen,

Malcom S. Carpenter, Leroy G. Cooper,

John H. Glenn, Virgil I. Grissom,

Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard,

Donald K. Slayton.

These, ladies and gentlemen,

are the nation's Mercury astronauts.

(audience applauds)

LAUNIUS: Well, the astronauts of the early era

were very much our alter egos, our surrogates

in this gigantic struggle with the Soviet Union.

And so they are Everyman.

And they're us.

MAN 1: The question is,

"Has your good lady and have your children

had anything to say about this?

LAUNIUS: Coupled with that is the so-called right stuff.

My wife's attitude toward this

has been the same as it has been all along

through all my flying,

that if it's what I want to do, and...

She's behind it and the kids are, too, 100%.

I have no problems at home.

My family's in complete agreement.


The astronaut training program will last

probably two years.

During this time, our urgent goal

is to subject these gentlemen

to every stress, each unusual environment

they will experience in that flight.

Before the first flight,

we will have developed our Mercury spaceship

to the point where it will be as reliable as man can devise.

(talking in background)

GEORGE ALEXANDER: Well, look, we had had, at that point,

a number of unmanned spacecraft that had failed.

(fire roaring, explosions popping)

(rocket taking off)

It really impressed the hell out of me

that this was a really dangerous business.

(explosion roars)

(engine roaring)

(explosion roars)

(explosions roar)

(explosion roars)

The next president of the United States,

on his shoulders will rest burdens heavier

than have rested on the shoulders of any president

since the time of Lincoln.

War and peace, the progress of this country,

the security of our people, the education of our children,

jobs for men and women who want to work,

the development of our resources,

the symbolic feeling of a nation,

the image the nation presents to the world,

its power, prestige, and direction--

all ultimately will come to rest upon the next president

of the United States.

(cheers and applause)

I ask you to join us, if we are successful,

I ask you to join us in all the tomorrows yet to come,

in building America, moving America,

picking this country of ours up

and sending it into the '60s.

(cheers and applause)

Now, when we have a presidential candidate,

for example, Senator Kennedy,

stating over and over again

that the United States is second in space--

and the fact of the matter is that the space score today

is 28 to eight, we've had 28 successful shots,

they've had eight.

When he states that we're second

in education,

when he makes statements like this,

what does this do to American prestige?

Well, it can only have the effect,

certainly, of reducing it.

Yes, I believe the Soviet Union is first in outer space.

We may have made more shots,

but the size of their rocket thrust and all the rest...

You yourself said to Khrushchev,

"You may be ahead of us in rocket thrust,

but we're ahead of you in color television,"

in your famous discussion in the kitchen.

I think that color television is not as important

as rocket thrust.

KHRUSHCHEV: Korolyov told, "Americans making preparation

to put their astronauts in space."

REPORTER: Gentlemen, which one of you looks forward

to being the first man into space?

SHORTY POWERS: And the honor goes to an astro-chimp

who is nicknamed Ham.

Ham is a stand-in for the astronaut,

a friendly little fellow in a form-fitted couch

about to make his mark in history.

KHRUSHCHEV: "We can send more testing with the dogs,

"but it will not prove anything,

so I have to do it now."

YURI GAGARIN (translated): Allow me, comrades,

to inform our Soviet government,

our Communist Party,

and all the Soviet people

that I accept with honor

the task assigned to me

to open the first path into space,

and if, during the execution of this assignment,

I encounter any difficulties,

I shall overcome them as the Communists do.

KHRUSHCHEV: First man in space-- it was the dream,

but it's close, 50-50,

the threat that it can be failure.

(engines firing)

(engines roaring)

RADIO MOSCOW: Today, the 12th of April, 1961,

the first cosmic spaceship, named Vostok,

with a man on board,

was orbited around the Earth

from the Soviet Union.

He is Airman Major Yuri Gagarin,

an air force pilot

and citizen of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

(Soviet national anthem playing, Gagarin speaking over radio)

RADIO MOSCOW: That was the voice of Yuri Gagarin

recorded from the first spaceship

with the first man to fly into the cosmos.

(Soviet national anthem continues)

EDWIN NEWMAN: The Soviet Union has today laid claim

to one of the greatest scientific achievements,

one of the greatest engineering achievements,

and, incidentally, one of the most courageous ventures

of all time.

It has sent a man into space

and brought him back alive.

(cheers and applause)

KHRUSHCHEV: This man in space

became the most important event in the world.

And my father want to make it very public relations.

So he told, "Yes,

"we will bring Gagarin to Moscow.

"I will meet him in the airport,

and then we will drive to the Red Square."

(Soviet national anthem playing on speakers)

They were on the roofs and the windows and the balconies,

cheering, shouting.

For me, I was a professional, I'm working in this field,

so this is just the propaganda.

(crowd cheering)

For the ordinary people,

it was sensation.

(anthem continues)

But after that, Gagarin became the public figure.

(anthem concludes)

And we are lucky that he has so attractive face,

and he smile.

And of course, Soviet Union sent him everywhere.

He represented the Soviet Union

and the great technological country.

(Russian song playing)

We Americans, and indeed the people of the free world,

must understand that science has political implications.

It means therefore that our own science must be looked upon

with, as to its political effect,

particularly with the emerging nations--

countries that are impressionable,

that are new, where emotionalism runs high.

LOGSDON: The world reaction was, if anything, even more excited

than after Sputnik.

(crowd cheering)

So Kennedy was faced with an issue of what to do,

how to respond.

Two days later,

he called a meeting in the cabinet room,

and Kennedy goes around the table

and says, "What can we do?

"Find me a space program which promises dramatic results

and which we could win."

BUCKBEE: Von Braun was the man who convinced President Kennedy

that we can beat the Russians to the moon.

REPORTER: How soon, conceivably,

could we fly around the moon?

I, I think it could conceivably be done in 1968.

BUCKBEE: "We've got the capability,

"we just got to commit to it,

and we can do it within a decade."

But if you want to go to the moon,

or land on the moon...

BUCKBEE: So Saturn was born.

Saturn was von Braun's baby.

He knew that if we start out with a small one

and then had a middle-sized one and then the big one,

we could eventually make that machine go to the moon.

Well, in the simplest terms,

Saturn is the most powerful rocket that we've ever built

on this side of the world, and, presumally...

presumably, the biggest rocket built anywhere, anytime.

Does that mean it's bigger

than anything the Russians have now,

as far as we know? Uh, yes...

LOGSDON: Von Braun made, I think, the correct calculation:

"We should go to the moon.


"Because both the United States and the Soviet Union

"would have to build new rockets

in order to land people on the moon."

This is not a cheap project, but I think

it's going to be worth every dollar we put into it.

LOGSDON: "So in a sense,

"getting to the moon is a rocket-building race,

and you, the United States, have me."

Chairman Brooks, I realize

you're still in the middle of your hearings

on the space program.

Do you think that getting to the moon is that important,

and do you think we can do it before the Russians?

No, and that's it,

we don't want to find the hammer-and-sickle flag

standing up on one of the peaks of the moon.

We want it to be the star-spangled banner.

ROBERT TROUT: This is Robert Trout at Cape Canaveral

reporting on an historic day in the age of space,

the day this country finally took a long step

toward matching Russian achievements

by shooting into space a 37-year-old Navy commander

from East Derry, New Hampshire.

LOGSDON: The Kennedy administration was very media-conscious,

so the plans all along had been to do things

on live television.

We were trying to send a message of U.S. competence

with the Alan Shepard flight,

first U.S. person going into space,

even if not into orbit.

JULES BERGMAN: ...hangar here at Cape Canaveral,

and now, through the doorway, Alan Shepard,

slated today to be America's first man in space.

Suited up in a shining silver space suit,

he climbs up the ladder and into the trailer

that will take him out to the launching pad.

LOGSDON: A number of people in the Kennedy inner circle

said, "Do we really want to do this?

"Do we want to risk failure on national television

and maybe even killing someone on national television?"

POWERS (on P.A.): I would ask all of you, please give us a break.

We know you want to see him,

but let's don't give him the, the feeling

that all we are are curiosity seekers.

If you could fall back a little bit,

give him a break-- he's got a big job to do today.

LOGSDON: And Kennedy called down to the Florida launch site,

Cape Canaveral, thought about it,

finally decided yes, that the risk was acceptable,

and, "Let's do it."

(talking in background)

LOGSDON: He took the risk.

REPORTER: This is one of the most tense moments

I've ever witnessed in my life.

MAN: Three, two, one, zero, ignition,


(talking in background)

(rocket whooshing, man talking indistinctly)

MAN: Moving slowly up in the sky...

We got to hear the sound.

RENICK: Alan B. Shepard... in the nose cone of that rocket!

Still rising!

The speed is picking up to 4,500 miles an hour... carry spaceman Shepard 115 miles above the Earth.

REPORTER: Each announcement on Moscow Radio has pointed out

that America's first manned venture into space

was a brief, vertical probe,

not an orbital flight.

BERGMAN: If the missile had blown up,

if anything had happened to Alan Shepard,

there's no telling what the effect would have been

on our prestige or our space program.

But nothing went wrong.

Everything went well.

The new spirit has arisen

in U.S. missile men

and in our capital.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to express on behalf of us all

the great pleasure we have

in welcoming Commander Shepard

and Mrs. Shepard here today.

LAUNIUS: For about a, a six-week period,

from the middle part of April of 1961

until the end of May,

Kennedy was able to announce a moon landing program

and not be laughed off the stage.

(cheers and applause)

BUCKBEE: The president wanted to do something

that was astounding to the world.

We needed something like that

to really challenge this country.

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.

No single space project in this period

will be more impressive to mankind

or more important for the long-range exploration of space,

and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

I believe we should go to the moon,

but I think every citizen of this country,

as well as the members of the Congress,

should consider the matter carefully

in making their judgment,

to which we have given attention over many weeks and months.

Because it is a heavy burden,

and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring

that the United States take an affirmative position

in outer space unless we are prepared to do the work

and bear the burdens to make it successful.


LOGSDON: There was a Gallup poll before Kennedy's speech,

in May of '61,

where it asked, "Would you spend $40 billion

to go to the moon?"

And something like 60% said no.

So there was not a groundswell of public demand

for a dramatic, expensive space venture.

It was a leadership initiative.


"If we decide to go ahead with the exploration of space,

"including putting a man on the moon

"within the next ten years,

we must be prepared to spend the money and do the work."

And as he described the work and described the money,

they both are considerable.

LAUNIUS: By the end of May,

he's already having second thoughts.

His budget director is telling him,

"NASA's going to break the bank,

"we've got to figure a way out of this.

What do we do?"

LOGSDON: Well, I think Kennedy had second thoughts about the money

the day after he announced we were going to do this.

I think all the way through, he was questioning,

"Do we really want to do this or not?"

KENNEDY (on recording): At least we ought to be clear,

otherwise we shouldn't be spending this kind of money

because I'm not that interested in space.

I think it's good, I think we ought to know about it.

We're ready to spend reasonable amounts of money.

But we're talking about fantastic expenditures

which wreck our budget.

The only justification for it, in my opinion,

is because we hope to beat them

and demonstrate that starting behind as we did,

by a couple of years, by God, we passed 'em.

REPORTER: Today, President Kennedy signed an authorization from Congress

to spend one billion, 700 million dollars

on our space program for the next fiscal year.

That's ten dollars

for every man, woman, and child in the nation.

But fair enough

for what is by far the greatest show on Earth--

the dramatic race to the moon.

RADIO MOSCOW: This is Radio Moscow.

This is Radio Moscow.

We interrupt our transmission for a special news flash.

After orbiting the Earth over 17 times

in the course of 25 hours

and covering over 700,000 kilometers,

Major Titov landed

in a predetermined region of the Soviet Union.

Major Titov is feeling well.

I do not think that we should

become disconcerted by this accomplishment.

I do not believe we should

appropriate more in the way of dollars.

I think what we ought to do is to stay on course,

work steadily and deliberately toward our objectives,

and keep our shirts on.

REPORTER: The immensity of the accomplishment

of Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov

has not yet begun

to sink into our minds.

He has opened the door which will lead us

to the next great adventure in space:

a trip to the moon.

And unless the world changes drastically,

that initial trip will be taken

by a spacecraft bearing a hammer and a sickle.

(seagulls squawking)

ALEXANDER: I was sent down all by myself to Cape Canaveral

to write for a magazine, "Aviation Week."

Lived in Cocoa Beach.

I remember the... sort of the physical environment

very vividly.

It was, it was almost always hot.

It was humid.

And now here comes this new population

of construction workers and engineers

building, building, building, building.

Building roads, building launch pads.

You know, this was the early days of the space program.

So I was about 27, maybe 28.

You know, we were all young.

It was exciting.

We are in one of the fastest- growth areas in the nation

here in the Cocoa area,

that we have experienced a 370% population increase

in this county alone within this last year.

BUCKBEE: You know, it was

a dead little town until NASA showed up.

And, of course, the press came in from everywhere.

The press just invaded the place.

Everybody wanted to go to Cocoa Beach.

MAN: That's NBC?

That's right, NBC News, radio.

And where are you staying, Larry?

I'll be across the street

for most of the shot. At the Holiday?

Yeah. Do you have one of our press kits?

What publication are you representing?

REPORTER: I'm with "Missiles & Rockets."

MAN: Where you staying, Doctor?

At the Cocoa Motel. At the Cocoa?

BLOOM: I mean here I was, young kid, young reporter.

I was in my 20s,

and they were paying my way

to go to Cape Canaveral and watch these rockets go up.

And you're all set to go out and report the shot.

BLOOM: I was starstruck.

I mean, this is NASA I'm covering.

These people are... are heroes.

PEGGY LLOYD: ♪ Hey I got him in a capsule

♪ He can't get away

♪ He's locked up in that capsule ♪

KING: With the thousands of people

coming in for the launches,

it was wild, there was no question about it,

as the town grew and everything else.

And you had all kinds of entertainment

at the various motels and that type of thing;

the town would be packed.


Thank you!

Thank you!

Welcome to "Cuckoo Beach,"

the government-controlled Disneyland.


KING: Oh, it got as wild as you wanted it to get.

LLOYD: Oh, you like that, eh?

KING: The press called it

Sodom and Gomorrah, as I remember.

It just was a great time.

(drumming, laughter)

BLOOM: There was a lot of drinking.

The drunkest I ever got in my life

was before one of those missions.

(ice rattling)

ALEXANDER: So came the dawn.

Hung over, sun-burned,

out we go into the press site.

The press site in those days was very basic.

There was a platform

and there was a series of phones.

The atmosphere is quite tense

as 600 newsmen wait to see...

REPORTER: Astronaut Glenn steps in and is patted on the arm

by a couple of the workmen on the 11th deck.

Scene 43, sound 43, launch, Mercury-Atlas.

RENICK: It's now T-minus-30 seconds.

We notice that several of the secretaries

of the space administration

have their heads bowed in a prayer for the astronaut.

MAN: Nine, eight, seven, six,

five, four, three,

two, one, zero.



The MA-6 vehicle has lifted off.

The MA-6 vehicle has lifted off...

(engines roaring)

(people talking in background)

MAN: Just about in it...


BERGMAN: Colonel Glenn will soon be

the free world and America's first man

to undergo orbital flight.

MAN: Roger, loud and clear, flight path...

GLENN: Oh, that view is tremendous.

(man talking in background)

(people talking in background)

JOEL BANOW: When the Mercury program started,

I was working at CBS News.

I wound up being a production assistant

on the Mercury shots.

And eventually I moved up

and I started directing

coverage of the manned space program.

All right, stand by, Walter, here she goes.

MAN 2: Ready to go to Cronkite.

MAN 1: Keep going.

CRONKITE: At this point, the capsule is...

BANOW: In the early days of television,

we didn't have any live feeds

from spacecraft.

So what do you put on the air?

What's your visual?

When you had some disconnected voice

from Mission Control,

we took an oscilloscope and fed the audio,

you know, the voice of Mission Control.

MISSION CONTROL: Roger, the surgeon suggests

that you drink as much water as you can.

Drink as often as you can.

BANOW: What are you going to do?

It was essentially a radio show.

MAN: Moments ago, we learned of

the first problem to develop in the flight.

BANOW: Splashdown was always something you could never see live.

Guys like Cronkite created the drama.

And that's a rather serious one to hear.

We still don't know that he is

safely through the atmospheric layer.

BANOW: We kept changing and building on

how we illustrated launch to splashdown

with the visuals that we needed.

We started using Mercury models.

We had a full-size Mercury mock-up.

Videotape changed the whole dynamic

of capturing imagery.

Color-- we started working in color now

instead of black and white.

(helicopter rotors whirring)

And then, finally, to using all of those satellites

and spreading that all over the world.

Everything we did on every mission

was a rehearsal for Apollo 11.

BUCKBEE: I think the fact that we did it in the open,

we told people in advance that we were going to launch...

It's in striking contrast with the way in which

these operations are conducted by Russia.

I don't think any of their launchings

have yet been reported on by a newsman

on the site.

BUCKBEE: Television was huge.

Guys like Cronkite,

you know, they became our agents.

And so we've got the first report

on the most important of the experiments

being performed...

BUCKBEE: They wanted to be at the Cape.

Things look very good, indeed, and augur well

for the future of the Mercury program, and...

BLOOM: NASA knew Walter was important.

I mean, we knew he was important

to be a cheerleader for the space program.

Among the press, Walter was just another guy.

Among Americans,

among people out there,

Walter was critical to the nation.

ALEXANDER: There were several prima donnas in broadcasting,

Jules Bergman being the pre-eminent example.

Jules wanted you to know that he could have been an astronaut.

Loneliness in space.

Wally Schirra might have some feelings along that line,

if he weren't so busy now...

KING: Jules Bergman-- my God.

He was the most disliked person, I guess, in the program,

but he did his homework and he was real good.

BUCKBEE: Von Braun was smart.

He encouraged us to embrace those people.

As I think all of you know by this time, if you don't,

the launch is now planned for 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

We've now flown four men in space.

The Soviets have flown some people.

The basic doubt about whether man could survive in space

has essentially been answered, and so we can get on with...

BUCKBEE: The open policy, the open door--

I think that was one of the greatest things

that NASA accomplished.

GORDON FRASER: Gordon Fraser here.

We're going directly to Florida,

where America's newest astronaut,

Captain Virgil Grissom, is standing by to tell the story

of Liberty Bell 7.

KENNEDY (on phone): ...really proud of you, and I must say

you did a wonderful job.

PAUL HARVEY: Colonel Glenn to New York today.

The 40-year-old man from outer space

with the beautifully thinning hair

will get the gladdest hand ever

from a city so eager to applaud an uncommon man.

REPORTER: Broadway, the canyon of heroes in Lower Manhattan,

is a completely white way today.

They're waving, and the crowd goes mad.

Listen to them!

LOGSDON: It was seeing John Glenn's parade

through Manhattan on March the first, 1962,

that stimulated my interest in space.

REPORTER: No one in the history of this great city

has received such a welcome.

LOGSDON: And seeing the public excitement

of a hero,

of someone that had done something

that no American had ever done before--

from then on, I wrote about the politics of space.

REPORTER: Everybody has turned out to see

America's heroes, the men who put America

back in the space race.

REPORTER: Astronaut John Glenn,

the first American to orbit the Earth.

CRONKITE: Scott Carpenter is a 37-year-old

lieutenant commander from the U.S. Navy,

is on his way to the deck.

POWERS: Gordon Cooper, the man that will be at the controls

in the U.S.'s sixth attempt at manned space flight.

He was awakened this morning at 2:50.

BUCKBEE: America wanted to meet their astronauts.

I mean, they were huge heroes.

Everybody wanted to meet or see an astronaut.

(crowd cheering)

BLOOM: The "Life" contract was something

that the original seven Mercury astronauts

were allowed to sign, and their personal stories

were exclusive "Life" magazine property.

KING: The "Life" magazine contract gave access to the astronauts,

the family, and everything else--

in their homes,

being with the wife during the mission.

VALERIE ANDERS: We felt somewhat protected

by this contract with "Life" magazine.

It made ground rules for the whole thing.

The "Life" magazine people

could be in the house,

everybody else was out of the house.

We felt like we were protected

from anybody just coming and doing an interview.

BILL ANDERS: We had an agent,

and he let NASA know that the personal stories

belonged to Time Life,

and therefore the press had to keep their distance.

It was big money to us at the time,

$100,000 life insurance.

KING: I was one among others who sort of

resented it all the way along, because I just felt

it went against what we were supposed to be all about.

LOGSDON: The Kennedy administration was ready to cancel

the contract with Time Life for the astronauts' stories.

But it was John Glenn that talked Kennedy

into allowing the astronauts to continue

to sell their stories to "Life" magazine.

In Hyannis, they went waterskiing together

and all that sort of thing, and on the sailboat,

Kennedy and Glenn talked about that.

Glenn said, "It puts a lot of burdens--

"my wife has to buy extra clothes,

"I have to buy more suits, I can't do that

"on military salary.

"This extra income is necessary

for us to be good public representatives."

BILL ANDERS: It's amazing to me that they could get away with that,

given the various rules

in the government about who can take money for what.

But that's the power

of the Mercury astronauts and their connection with JFK.

(crowd cheering)

ED DWIGHT: Of course, that was

the biggest PR move in history,

was, get these first seven guys

and to make them super-human.

And it turned out that the public

wasn't very interested in satellites.

Satellites did not excite them.

But if you put a man in the middle of that,

then now you've got the public's attention.

(brass band playing)

And up to that point in time, most of our heroes

were sports heroes,

and actors, and people like that.

This is where the idea of a black astronaut came,

early in the Kennedy administration.

What would this do to the country

if you were to take a black guy

and put him right in the middle

of all of the hero worship

that had been going on with NASA?

(children cheering)

All the other astronauts were test pilots.

You had to have an engineering degree or a degree

in natural science.

You had to have 1,500 hours of jet time.

So I was 27, 2,200 hours of jet time,

a degree in aeronautical engineering,

so my card fell out.

And I get this letter asking me

if I was interested in going to test pilot school,

to go to Edwards Air Force Base en route

to being the first African-American astronaut.

I draw the line in the dust, and toss the gauntlet

before the feet of tyranny,

and I say segregation now,

segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

(cheers and applause)

DWIGHT: NASA had this problem,

because just about every committee in Congress

was led by a Southerner.

You know, NASA needed tax dollars, okay?

So that's the reason why

most of the space program facilities

were created in the South.

That's what they needed to get money from Congress,

to get these congressmen to vote.

And a whole bunch of political history

comes into play.

We are confronted today with a challenge

which has all the urgency and importance

of our space exploration program.

This is the social problem

dealing with man's relationship with man,

which, while not new,

has come into sharp focus in recent years.

Your assistance, your affirmative attitudes,

and your dedication to a principle

that is based upon what is right, what is just,

and what is fair will be needed.

DWIGHT: I was sent down to Edwards Air Force Base to interview.

Chuck Yeager was the head

of the test pilot school and the new astronaut program.

(jet engines roaring)

You know, we're turning out

an entirely different breed of pilot here at the school.

These guys will be working on programs

all the way from the surface of the Earth to space.

DWIGHT: Chuck Yeager- he was one of my heroes.

(plane roaring)

You know, he was the first man

to go through the speed of sound.

And the first phase of it

was test pilot training, which was a precursor

to the space training en route to being an astronaut.

(plane roaring)

FRANK BORMAN: The Kennedys wanted a black astronaut.

Particularly Bobby Kennedy was insistent

on having a black astronaut.

And Ed Dwight, God bless him,

was enrolled in the test pilot school.

And I was not involved in it,

although it was going on at Edwards Air Force Base

while I was there.

I viewed myself as a warrior in the Cold War.

I was there because I was in the military

and I thought it was extremely important to,

to get to the moon ahead of the Russians.

Beat the Russians!

But Yeager is... he's a piece of work.

DWIGHT: Yeager had called in the entire instructor staff

and he announced

that "Washington is trying to cram the N-word

down our throats."

He said, "Kennedy is using this to make racial equality,

"so do not speak to him, do not socialize with him,

"do not drink with him,

"do not invite him over to your house,

and in six months, he'll be gone."

BORMAN: Yeager said, "Well, now, wait a minute.

"Dwight's not doing that well-- he's 16th,

"and we're only going to take the top ten.

"But if you want to expand the course,

"I'll take 16 in there

so Dwight will be included,"

and that's how it happened.

DWIGHT: After I'd finished successfully,

the White House announced,

"We now have a black astronaut."

President Kennedy called my mom and dad.

A 29-year-old Negro says he is anxious to go into space.

He is Captain Edward Dwight of the Air Force,

selected to be an astronaut,

the first of his race to be so designated.

Captain Dwight and his family got the news at their home

at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

DWIGHT: Now I'm going around the country,

you know, being this first black astronaut,

getting all these trophies and awards,

and stuff like that--

letting the whole leadership in the black community know

that, "Here he is, guys."

Because blacks are not heroes in science,

in math, in engineering, in space, in flight testing,

in test piloting-- in piloting, period, you know?

But I was talking to black kids,

trying to get their attention.

I was going in a whole range of schools,

from city to city to city.

And I was still in training, by the way,

in training to be an astronaut.

The School of Aerospace Medicine

is at Brooke Army Medical Center,

near Lackland Air Force Base.

They did every possible thing

you could do to a human being

in that three-month period of time.

(bike squeaking)

(door clicks, lock engages)

They'd put your hands in a bucket of ice-cold water,

just one hand in a bucket of ice-cold water.

Well, what happens is, your heart

starts beating faster and faster and faster.

They would stick, you know, 14 needles into your head

to see your brain waves.

And then you go into the centrifuge.

It drains all the blood out of your head

and you can't even see.

I mean, it was hell.

(laughing): They stuck holes

in every orifice you had in your body,

and made holes in the rest of them.

It was unbelievable.

MICHAEL COLLINS: The unknowns of space were such that when

the first Mercury candidates were selected,

people were legitimately or otherwise concerned

about their ability to withstand

vibration, high temperature,

isolation, darkness, heat-- and so they tended

to emphasize those.

By the time it got to the second

and the third group of astronauts,

I think the emphasis

shifted a little bit from the physical

to the mental.

I certainly would not want to fly in space with a psychotic

or a highly neurotic person.

I thought that some of the psychological tests

were kind of amusing,

like the blank piece of paper,

which I think I said I thought I saw

19 polar bears fornicating in a snow bank.

The question then is, why 19?

BUZZ ALDRIN: My good friend Ed White

called me up, talked on the phone.

He said, "NASA is interested

"in adding to the Mercury 7 astronauts,

"and I'm qualified,

so I'm going to apply."

He was selected, I wasn't.

But I persisted, and in 1963,

I was selected.

BILL ANDERS: NASA was looking for a new group of astronauts.

So I was flying an airplane called the F-101 Voodoo,

which is probably one of the sexiest

but most dangerous airplanes ever built.

(engine roaring)

Being a fighter pilot does weed out

the people who are overly concerned

about their own safety.

So I went off and applied,

and to my amazement, on my birthday in 1963,

was called by Deke Slayton.

He said, "Hey, how would you like to come work for us?"

That's how I ended up going to NASA.

DWIGHT: I was feeling it, I was very confident,

I was cocky.

I was really convinced that I was in the club.

SLAYTON: Okay, I guess you all know

why you're here today, and why we're here.

We'd like to introduce

the new group of 14 astronauts

that we've been in the process of selecting

for about the last four months.

(audience applauds)

BILL ANDERS: I remember thinking, you know,

why are these people treating us like heroes?

All we did was get on an airplane and fly to Houston.

And I was a little embarrassed about it.

Captain Bill Anders,

Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Here I was being oohed and ahhed

as an American icon,

who had basically only escaped Vietnam

as my major accomplishment.

So, I was embarrassed with the first press conference.

REPORTER: Speaking of integration,

was there a Negro boy in the last 30 or so

that you brought here for consideration?

Uh, no, there was not.

Okay, I guess we're through, Paul.

PAUL HANEY: Well, we wanted to break out

for some stills here,

and there may be some people who want to get special things

but let's keep the stills...

DWIGHT: That was my group.

I was expecting to be a part of that group.

But within the first three-year window there,

you know, a lot of these guys got killed.

You know, so I wasn't the only guy

that had a set of difficulties.

I got it because I was black.

(engine puttering)

I later found out that the U.S. Information Agency

took a whole battery of my pictures,

sent them to Africa,

where the tracking stations were,

and they had all these people saying,

"There's a black guy that's going up!"

Showing them my picture to say, "Don't go destroy

"the tracking station, don't be going

"and blowing up our tracking stations,

or messing with them,"

that this guy here is going to flying over there,

because, in the orbit, they got to go over Africa.

Well, yeah, it would have been

a grand and glorious event,

if I had have been accepted.

First, if we may,

why aren't you an astronaut now?

I couldn't begin to tell you.

I have no... I have no comment for that question.

But other than that,

I won't make any overt statements at this time,

outlining any overt racial pressures

at any time during my training at Edwards.

REPORTER 2: Are you now in fact

completely out of the astronaut program?

Is there a possibility of you ever being back in?

I don't know, I don't have any idea.

REPORTER 1: Do you feel that what's happened to you

is a setback for civil rights opportunities

in this country?

I would rather not comment on that.

(people talking in background)

The administrator of the, NASA is Mr. James Webb,

and he is standing by now at NASA's

Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mr. Webb, what about

this so-called peaceful competition in space?

When the Soviets orbited Sputnik 1 around the world,

they scored much more than a propaganda victory.

They achieved a technological jump which jolted the world

and served as an open challenge to us.

BORMAN: NASA was very fortunate to be led by Jim Webb.

He was a remarkable human being.

He was a very staunch Democrat.

He understood the Congress.

He knew where all the wheels, buttons,

and skeletons were buried.

Instead of driving around in a Cadillac limousine,

he had a Checker that was painted black.

You know the Checker cab?

Not as presumptuous as a Cadillac.

He provided a fiscal umbrella for us.

We couldn't have made it without Mr. Webb.

(plane engine running)

LOGSDON: By the summer of 1962,

there was some concern in the budget bureau

about the cost and dimensions of what would be required

to do what Kennedy said we were going to do,

and so there was a recommendation

that Kennedy go out and take a look

at what was being done.

(band playing "Hail to the Chief")

BUCKBEE: He came to Huntsville to meet von Braun,

and immediately he and von Braun climbed in a car and drove

into what we called the fabrication laboratory.

That's where the boosters were being assembled.

(von Braun speaks softly)

Sir, on this table,

you see an array of rockets that we are dealing with.

We will very shortly begin assembly

of the first stages of the large,

or advanced Saturn C-5,

which is a vehicle designed to put an American on the moon

in this decade, and by God we'll do it.

BUCKBEE: We get over to the test site,

and they fire up the booster.

(boosters roaring)

32 million horsepower.

We hold it down for two-and-a-half minutes.

It never leaves the pad.

(boosters firing)

(fire bursts, then stops)

And I was standing with the Secret Service people,

and the president-- he was so excited about it,

he said, "I felt the heat come up my pants leg,

"and it felt like a hammer

"beating against my chest.

"That's the most... that's the most impressive thing

I've ever seen."

You know, they had a long, long conversation.

How's the rocket going to work?

How many times can we go to the moon?

Is it really going to work like that when you fly it?

He said, "Yes, sir,

it's going to fly just like that."

The president had never been around anything like this.

He'd never seen a launch, even of a missile.

That was the day that, I think, Kennedy realized

von Braun knew what he was doing.

BLOOM: Von Braun was always tainted

by the Nazi underpinnings of his career.

Kurt Debus was the same way,

and he was the director of Cape Canaveral.

Debus was a Nazi.

So two of the NASA major centers

were headed by ex-Nazis.

All of these former Nazis were there.

So we would joke about it,

but we didn't make a big deal about it,

about the fact that all of these ex-Nazis

were getting us to the moon.

General, gentlemen, I want to express

our great satisfaction

in your presence here in the United States.

This kind of a joint community effort,

a community of the free nations,

would have been regarded as impossible two decades ago.

But now we take it very much for granted.

We are glad you're here, gentlemen,

we're proud to have you in the United States.

(cheers and applause)

LOGSDON: And he was at the Cape for less than a day.

He'd been given a full briefing of the Apollo buildup

and the technical requirements for a moon mission.

And then he went to Houston.

LEWIS CUTRER: Ladies and gentlemen,

I know that this is the great moment

we've been looking for,

to welcome to Houston, to Harris County,

the president of the United States,

our congressman, Albert Thomas,

to Space City, U.S.A., which all of them

and their colleagues were responsible for creating.

This is our way of saying to you, Mr. President,

Mr. Vice President, Congressman Thomas, thank you...

LOGSDON: The reality was that there was

an influential member of the House of Representatives

named Albert Thomas who controlled NASA's money.

And Mr. Thomas let it be known,

if there was going to be a next NASA center,

it had better be in his district,

which was south of Houston.


KENNEDY: Mr. Mayor, Congressman Thomas,

Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen,

as we reach towards the moon,

I think it's most appropriate

that this space center should be located here in Houston.

Here at Rice University.

LOGSDON: And so, the decision

to put the manned spacecraft center in Houston

was very political.

CUTRER: Thank you, Mr. President.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen,

let me urge you to attend the program tomorrow morning

at Rice Stadium.

Be in your seats for 9:30 in the morning, Rice Stadium.

(marching band playing)

(cheers and applause)

(marching band playing)

(cheering and applauding)

(cheers and applause continue)

In the last 24 hours,

we have seen facilities now being created

for the greatest and most complex exploration

in man's history.

We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered

by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket,

many times as powerful

as the Atlas which launched John Glenn,

generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles

with their accelerator on the floor.

We have seen the site where five F-1 rocket engines,

each one as powerful

as all eight engines of the Saturn combined,

will be clustered together

to make the advanced Saturn missile

assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral

as tall as a 48-story structure, as wide as a city block,

and as long as two lengths of this field.

We have had our failures, but so have others,

even if they do not admit them,

and they may be less public.

To be sure...

(audience applauds) be sure, we are behind,

and will be behind for some time in manned flight,

but we do not intend to stay behind,

and in this decade, we shall make up

and move ahead.

(audience cheers and applauds)

We choose to go to the moon.

We choose to go to the moon!

(audience cheers and applauds)

We choose to go to the moon in this decade,

and do the other things,

not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Because that goal will serve to organize and measure

the best of our energies and skills,

because that challenge

is one that we're willing to accept,

one we are unwilling to postpone,

and one we intend to win, and the others, too.

(audience cheers and applauds)

Many years ago, the great British explorer George Mallory,

who was to die on Mount Everest,

was asked, why did he want to climb it?

He said because it is there.

Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it.

And the moon and the planets are there,

and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.

And, therefore, as we set sail,

we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous

and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Thank you.

(audience cheers and applauds)

VALERIE ANDERS: We just drove to Houston with all the children.

I was pregnant at the time,

and there was little accommodation

for population there.

There wasn't even a grocery store.

A lot of us lived on one street in Clearlake City,

and we got to know each other that way,

and the children were little,

so they played together.

And then we all moved to the new houses that we built.

So when we'd all get together,

we didn't talk about the space program,

we talked about our contractors and what disaster

had happened in the construction of our house.

Janet Armstrong lived a couple of houses behind me.

Pat White lived next door to her.

And between neighbors and those friends,

we sort of had a circle.

Most of our friends who were in the military with us

were either going to Vietnam or had been to Vietnam,

and so I thought that was not as positive a Cold War cause

as the journey to the moon.

I thought that had a more positive aspect to it.

I just felt like it was something that would

be a huge gain, whereas Vietnam was,

to me, no gain at all.

So that had a lot to do with how I felt about the time,

and how I felt about the risk.

Most of the time, the men weren't there.

He would get in a T-38 and leave Houston

and be at the Cape in an hour and a half.

He came home on the weekend, just in time

to take the water ski boat and go out and have fun,

for one day,

and then back to the Cape-- and they were gone again.

(jet engine roaring)

BUCKBEE: The Mercury guys--

they were difficult to deal with.

We needed to know where they were after 5:00.

You know, I had my share of those evenings

where I was assigned to follow or track down someone.

You know, they were--

they were young fighter pilots.

There were things that were taken care of behind the scenes

that would be embarrassing to the agency.

(glasses clinking)

VALERIE ANDERS: They were complicated,

very competitive individuals.

A lot of ego got mixed in there,

and there were lots of women at the Cape and other places

that thought it was all very romantic and exciting.

And the moms stayed home, you know?

The moms stayed home and took care of the children

and that, that was sort of mundane

for these men that were

flying fast airplanes and doing these exciting adventures.

It was...

it was hard on a marriage.

But Bill and I will celebrate our 60th in a month.

(laughing): Which is a long time.

But the time was never boring-- never.

(static hissing)

(people talking in background)

We have, for the past six months,

undertaken a very concentrated systems engineering study

within NASA,

in determining

the mission we should undertake,

the mission mode in going to the moon.

In committing this nation

to a program which will extend

over the next five to ten years,

and in which we will spend

many billions of dollars,

it's been absolutely essential

to determine that we're on the right path.

ALDRIN: When the decisions in Apollo were being made,

the strategy of getting to the moon

had not been decided.

I think you can now contrast the two landed configurations.

ALDRIN: Basically, the argument was centered

around the safety and the desirability

of Earth orbit rendezvous,

instead of the more risky lunar orbit rendezvous.

BUCKBEE: Here's the situation.

Von Braun wanted to do Earth orbital rendezvous.

Earth orbital rendezvous means you put everything

in Earth orbit,

and you assemble it from there.

For example, von Braun wanted to do a space station

before going to the moon.

The old plan was, we'll build a space station

in Earth orbit, and then to rendezvous

large pieces of equipment

and to also launch from Earth orbit.

He was convinced

that Earth orbital rendezvous was best for the long term.

We do that, and then we can go beyond the moon.

We could go to Mars.

ALDRIN: Sometime, the end of '62,

a decision was made to alter the strategy.

We can say today that we have picked

a mode by what we call lunar orbit rendezvous.

It means taking off from the Earth's surface

and going directly to the moon,

and then sending in a small vehicle

dispatched from the mother spacecraft.

Well, I'll ask Dr. Shea to do this--

he's pretty good at it.

The basic mission mode

calls for a single launch of the vehicle

from the pad at the Cape...

ALDRIN: Let's break that into segments.

You'd need a spacecraft we can launch him in,

and it'll be the spacecraft that brings him back.

We have another spacecraft that we've taken with us,

that can make the landing.

And the configuration which we then have

on the way to the moon

is effectively this configuration.

Once you decide to commit to the lunar surface,

you'll now have your landing legs extended,

and then the vehicle will land on the lunar surface.

ALDRIN: And when it gets to the moon,

now it has to leave the descent stage on the moon,

bring the ascent stage up to join up

with the other spacecraft.

SHEA: Assuming everything works,

the lunar excursion module

will reorient itself,

bring itself to a position

where it has a very small velocity error

and very small linear displacement

from the mother spacecraft.

Okay, and then...

ALEXANDER: You could do this,

but then, you know, the devil was in the details.

How do you do it?

This was not a yellow brick road

from Cape Canaveral to the moon.

It was a hard march.

There were just problems all the way along.

REPORTER: The Apollo, or manned lunar program,

is in trouble, deep trouble,

and few experts at this missile space center

now think the United States

will be able to keep its self-imposed deadline

of sending men to the moon before 1970.

The Gemini program,

in which men must check out

their critical rendezvous technique,

is now 18 months behind schedule

and slipping even more seriously.

And most of the experts at Cape Canaveral

think that President Kennedy was overconfident,

in fact, was unrealistic,

when he established that national goal

28 months ago.

LOGSDON: In 1963 severe criticism of Apollo began to emerge

from a variety of quarters.

So Kennedy was concerned about this growing criticism

and about his re-election prospects.

And, in that context, Kennedy returned to the idea

of cooperating with the Soviet Union.

Why not do it together?

Including joint missions to the moon.

He had first raised it with Khrushchev in June of '61.

He met Khrushchev in Vienna

ten days after his first moon speech.

KHRUSHCHEV: In 1961, when they met in Vienna,

JFK mentioned this to my father--

"Let's try to do it together."

But my father at the time, he rejected this.

And when I ask why--

"We have to go to the moon,"

I was enthusiastic.

He said, "Americans much superior than we are,

"and if we start work together,

we will not be able to keep everything secret."

So my father told no,

Americans can go ahead without us.

LOGSDON: Khrushchev, in 1961,

really didn't know or trust Kennedy,

and so didn't take his cooperative proposal

very seriously.

But in '63, he had come to admire and respect Kennedy,

and was giving serious consideration

to accepting Kennedy's proposal.

KENNEDY: Why should man's first flight to the moon

be a matter of national competition?

Why should the United States and the Soviet Union,

in preparing for such expeditions,

become involved in immense duplications of research,

construction, and expenditure?

Surely we should explore whether the scientists

and astronauts of our two countries--

indeed, of all the world-- cannot work together

in the conquest of space.

I include among these possibilities

a joint expedition to the moon,

sending someday in this decade to the moon

not the representatives of a single nation,

but the representatives of all of our countries.

(audience applauds)

KHRUSHCHEV: It was not propaganda.

It was part of the Kennedy policy--

we can work together.

A part of my father's policies was very similar.

My father was ready to go forward.

(applause continues)

"We will save our resources working with Americans

"and it will help us politically

"in the public relations with United States,

so let's do it."


Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963,

and Khrushchev was ousted of power

on October 14, 1964.

And this idea died.

LOGSDON: He had just been to the Cape six days earlier,

on November the 16th.

In those last days before his assassination,

he had gone out,

much to the dismay of his Secret Service officers,

and stood under a Saturn 1 rocket

on the launch pad,

while being briefed by von Braun.

ALEXANDER: It's clear he was interested,

because he was pointing at things,

asking questions about why this, why that.

We only caught occasional words.

Just the mere presence of this young,

lively, witty president

animated that entire group that was around him.

The Gemini spacecraft was brought out for him,

and he really wanted to know

how the spacecraft would be used

and what it would do to meet the challenge.

LOGSDON: Kennedy was all fired up,

he was really enthusiastic once again about space.

There's no sign to me

that on the morning of November the 22nd, 1963,

that John Kennedy was willing to back off.

CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas,

the flash, apparently official,

President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time,

2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.


GERRI WHITTINGTON: Governor Bryant on 2-1-9-1.

JOHNSON: All right.

WHITTINGTON: He'll be right with you, sir.

BRYANT: Mr. President.

JOHNSON: How are you, my friend?

We're getting ready to name Cape Canaveral

Cape Kennedy.

BRYANT: Oh, marvelous.

JOHNSON: So that all the launches

that go around the world will be

from Cape Kennedy.

I think it'd be a wonderful thing for your state

and it would probably, through the years,

bring a lot of attention and...

BRYANT: We're very honored.

And I think it's a very fitting tribute,

because it was his-- peculiarly his.

JOHNSON: Yes, that's right.

ANNOUNCER: Next time...

There's always a possibility

that we can have a catastrophic failure, of course.

JULES BERGMAN: They died at T minus ten minutes,

helplessly trapped inside their spacecraft.

FRANK BORMAN: The fire shattered my wife's confidence in NASA

and in the Apollo program.

POPPY NORTHCUTT: We were fixing errors

very close to flight time.

My feeling was, they were flying

with baling wire and rubber bands.

ANNOUNCER: The continuation of "Chasing the Moon,"

next time, on "American Experience."

Made possible in part by Liberty Mutual Insurance. "American Experience: Chasing the Moon"


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