In a spring 1999 poll of opinion leaders sponsored by leading news organizations in the United States, the 100 most significant events of the 20th century were ranked. The Moon landing was a very close second to the splitting of the atom and its use during World War II. “It was agonizing,” CNN anchor and senior correspondent Judy Woodruff said of the selection process. Probably historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., best summarized the position of a large number of individuals polled. “The one thing for which this century will be remembered 500 years from now was: This was the century when we began the exploration of space.” He noted that Project Apollo gave many a sense of infinite potential. “People always say: If we could land on the Moon, we can do anything,” said Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor at Miami-based Spanish-language cable network Univision, who also made it her first choice.
Perhaps because of his long life, Schlesinger has looked toward a positive future, and that prompted him to rank the lunar landing first. “I put DNA and penicillin and the computer and the microchip in the first 10 because they’ve transformed civilization. Wars vanish,” Schlesinger said, and many people today cannot even recall when the Civil War took place. “Pearl Harbor will be as remote as the War of the Roses,” he said, referring to the English civil war of the 15th century. And there’s no need to get hung up on the ranking, he said. “The order is essentially very artificial and fictitious,” he said. “It’s very hard to decide the atomic bomb is more important than getting on the Moon.”
There have been many detailed historical studies of Project Apollo completed in the more than thirty years since the first lunar landing in 1969. The major contours of the American sprint to the Moon during the 1960s have been told and retold many times, notably in several books in the NASA History Series, and by William Burroughs, Andrew Chaikin, and Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox. All provide the end of the decade through the first lunar landing on July 20, 1969, on to the last of six successful Moon landings with Apollo 17 in December 1972, NASA carried out Project Apollo with enthusiasm and aplomb. With the passage of time, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the subsequent opening of archives on both sides of the space race, however, there are opportunities not present before to reconsider Project Apollo anew.
While there have been many studies recounting the history of Apollo, this new book in the NASA History Series seeks to draw out the statistical information about each of the flights that have been long buried in numerous technical memoranda and historical studies. It seeks to recount the missions, measuring results against the expectations for them.
This work appears in the NASA History Series as a Special Publication (SP) in the Reference Works section, SP-4000, of the series. Works in this section provide information, usually in dictionary, encyclopedic, or chronological form, for use by NASA personnel, scholars, and the public. This new publication captures for the use of all detailed information about Apollo and its unfolding during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Roger D. Launius
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
October 2, 2000