"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."
That was President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961, announcing his goal for NASA and asking Congress for tens of millions of dollars to finance that goal.
From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.
When, in May 1961, President Kennedy announced that America would send men to the Moon in the decade of the '60s, the goal seemed right out of a science fiction movie. In 1961 NASA could barley send satellites into orbit and at the time of that speech, NASA had only sent one man into space. Just two weeks before Kennedy's speech Allan Sheppard had flown the first manned sub-orbital flight. An American had not yet even orbited the earth, and now the president was declaring that we would send men to the moon and back.
"Ten…nine…we have ignition sequence start, engines on…five…four…three…two…all engines running…launch commit…Liftoff! We have liftoff 49 minutes past the hour. Stafford reports the clock has started. The tower is clear. ‘Okay pitch is tracking, looking good. Roger.'"
That was on May 18, 1969, eight years after Kennedy's announced goal, and that was the launch of Apollo 10 commanded by Weatherford, Oklahoma's Tom Stafford.
Interestingly, another Oklahoman, Shawnee's Gordon Cooper, was his back up on the number two crew. Eugene Cernan was the Lunar Module pilot, and John Young was the Command Module pilot. The mission included everything necessary to complete the goal President Kennedy had set years earlier, everything except actually landing on the Moon.
This spacecraft was the second Apollo mission to orbit the Moon, but the first to travel to the Moon with the full Apollo spacecraft, consisting of the Command and Service Module named the "Charlie Brown" and the Lunar Module named "Snoopy." The mission was a full dry run or dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 mission, in which all operations except the actual lunar landing were performed.
"We're ready for what we're about to receive…:::Fly Me to the Moon music::: We don't need it all."
On May 22, Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan entered the Lunar Module and fired the Service Module reaction control thrusters to separate the Lunar Module from the Command Module.The Lunar Module was put into an orbit to allow low-altitude passes over the lunar surface, the closest approach bringing it to within 5-and-a-half miles of the surface of the Moon.
"How's the view, 10? We have our astute geologist here overlooking the surface and they'll report it in a minute. Roger, standing by, over. Okay we're just passing over the highlands into the mare area, and you can pass on to Jack we caught a couple of real pretty little volcanoes, there's no doubt about them, and we caught a couple of good high-resolution photos."
Then on the afternoon of May 26, the Apollo splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa.
"First of all it's really great to be back from the Moon, and all of us feel in great shape, and I can't tell how much we appreciate all the support from the people around the world. If you can see us back in Houston, with Chris and Deke and George Low and all of them, and also how much we think we've increased the knowledge of man's involvement, we're going to press on here."
The crew had been space for just over eight days traveling to within five miles of the moon. That set the stage for Apollo 11 a month and a half later, the mission we all remember.
Stafford's first space flight was in December 1965 in the Gemini 6. That capsule, his flight suit, and other artifacts from Oklahomans in space are on display at the Oklahoma History Center, just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.