© Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
In May 1961, when President Kennedy proposed a Moon landing 'before this decade is out', he was committing the USA to a supreme focus for technological effort. The programme also reflected the Cold War competition between Soviet and American ideologies and defence fears in America that it might be losing the 'missile race' following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957.
Although the Apollo programme had its roots in the fearful Cold War climate the Moon landing remains an extraordinary achievement at the limit of what was then possible. For example, the missions used, in aggregate, the largest amount of computing power ever assembled at this time, to control the navigation and rendezvous problems of the craft. It also represented a huge industrial effort which engaged 390,000 people and took over 5 percent of the US federal budget in 1965. The project generated enormous passion. North American Aviation, the contractors for the capsule, estimated that some 20 percent of the 500 million person hours in the project were contributed as free overtime by staff.
In this capsule Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan travelled around the Moon in 1969 as a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 landing which followed in July.
Many 'spin-offs' have been claimed for the Apollo flights, including the miniaturisation of computers, Teflon, and a huge boost to US technology. However, its most potent and enduring legacy perhaps lies in the views of Earth that the astronauts captured. These 'Earthrise' photographs resonated with a developing environmental consciousness and helped awaken us to the fragility of our planet.