We choose to go to the Moon!
We choose to go to the Moon…
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.John F. Kennedy, Rice University, 1962
With those stirring words spoken in 1962, President John F. Kennedy set the seal on a national mission to send Americans to the Moon and bring them back safely again to Earth.
That was a grand ambition in itself, with the Russians having already established a commanding lead in the “Space Race”, the proxy competition between the two superpowers to achieve firsts in the heavens.
Sputnik had spooked the Americans when it pinged its way around the world in 1957 and from that point on, each nation had pushed the other onwards to greater heights and longer flights, until there was one final target left – to reach the Moon.
But Kennedy’s epochal speech had an additional demand – to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade, just seven years ahead.
Arguably the greatest single peacetime achievement in human history followed.
America rose to the challenge, expressed through NASA and the four hundred thousand individuals who came together to solve the myriad technical quandaries that stood between man and the Moon, striving as one to satisfy the posthumous wishes of their fallen leader.
Fifty years later, the story of the Herculean effort involved, the tragedies that very nearly derailed the programme, the exceptional men who became Apollo astronauts and the brash young men and women with pocket protectors, slide rules and an average age in the twenties who made it all work, was told again in a 12-part BBC podcast series.
This was “13 Minutes To The Moon”.
Presented by Kevin Fong, each episode features key members of the Apollo programme – astronauts, programme directors, technicians, engineers, mathematicians, politicians – who offer incredible insight into each step on the tortuous and terrifying path from Rice University to Kennedy Space Center and finally, to Tranquility Base.
The final thirteen minutes of Apollo 11’s descent to the lunar surface gives the podcast its title, but those 13 minutes had been preceded by seven years of unceasing effort and astounding technical achievement.
All of that is distilled into 12 forty-five minute episodes, culminating in that final descent, with fuel close to running out, programme alarms sounding and disaster only held at bay by the cool, calm, capable heads, hearts and hands of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
The 20th century told no more inspiring a tale than this.
“13 Minutes To The Moon” tells it better than ever before.