On 20th July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Read on to find out about Neil Armstrong, and the other NASA astronauts who visited the moon as part of the Apollo programme. As specialist retailers of space toys, space dressing up and other fun space stuff, we love everything about space exploration. If you have any queries or think something is missing, please email us at info@spacekids.co.uk

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US President John F Kennedy

NASA's challenge - to go to the moon!

Around fifty years ago, the United States of America and Russia were competing with each other to prove that they were the most powerful country in the world. Space exploration became a key area in which they could show their superiority.

Russia beat the United States to put the first man in space, when in 1961 Yuri Gagarin flew into space in his rocket, Vostok 1.

Newly elected US President John F Kennedy decided to show America's might by challenging NASA to put a man on the moon, in less than ten years.

Click to hear an excerpt of the speech John F Kennedy made at Rice University in 1962, outlining his plans for a manned American mission to the moon.

The first men on the moon.

The first men to walk on the moon

On 20th July 1969, NASA met President Kennedy's challenge, and Neil Armstrong (left) and Buzz Aldrin (right) became the first and second men to walk on the moon. Listen to a sound clip of the landing by clicking here.

Michael Collins (centre) waited for them in orbit around the moon, in the command module spacecraft that would take them all home.

When they landed, the first words said on the moon were "the Eagle has landed", and as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon's surface he said "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Listen to this famous speech by clicking here.

They explored the moon's surface for less than three hours, collecting 22 kilograms of rocks for study back on earth. When they returned to earth they were welcomed as celebrities, and international heroes!

Apollo 1 Mission patch Apollo 8 Mission patch Apollo 11 Mission patch Apollo 17 Mission patch

The first Apollo crew died tragically in an accident during training. NASA then made changes to make Apollo spacecraft safer for their crews.

Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft that flew the 250,000 miles to the moon. They flew round the moon and came back again, but did not land.

Apollo 11 was the mission where NASA were satisfied every part of the spacecraft had been tested and was ready for an attempt to land on the moon.

The last Apollo mission was Apollo 17. By 1972 public interest was waning in moon landings, and since Apollo 17, no-one has returned to the moon.

Apollo 8 launches.

The early Apollo missions

Following President Kennedy's challenge in 1961, NASA began a race to land people on the moon before the end of the 1960's. After the Apollo 1 tragedy, when a fire inside the command module killed three astronauts, NASA revisited the design of the Apollo spacecraft, making many changes to improve safety.

When Apollo missions restarted, they were unmanned - Apollo flights 2 to 6 were remote controlled flights, used by NASA to test each of the parts of the Apollo spacecraft, making sure everything worked before any astronauts were carried into space.

Apollo 7 was the first manned flight, and Apollo 8 proved that astronauts could fly all the way to the moon and back, though the crew did not land. Apollo 9 and 10 were used for testing the Lunar Module, the spacecraft that would land on the moon.

That meant that by Apollo 11, everything was ready to attempt a moon landing!

Apollo astronaut on the moon

Landing on the moon

Using the knowledge gained from the previous Apollo missions, NASA decided the Apollo 11 crew would try for a moon landing. Three days after launching from earth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew the Lunar Module down to the moon's surface.

The world listened as the astronauts struggled to find a suitable site to land their spacecraft. When they touched down, their instruments reported that they had only about 20 seconds worth of fuel left!

The Lunar Module carried cameras that allowed Apollo 11 to broadcast TV pictures of the astronauts stepping down onto the surface of the moon, and 600 million people around the world tuned in to watch this historic moment.

On this first visit to the moon, the astronauts spent less than three hours exploring. They had to learn as much as they could - they even tried out different ways to move on the moon, to see what would work best. Buzz even tried kangaroo hopping to see if that would be easier than walking!

The Apollo 13 Command module explodes

The Apollo 13 rescue

After Apollo 11 and 12, everyone expected another successful mission. However, half way to the moon there was an explosion on Apollo 13. A wiring fault was the cause, badly damaging the Command Module. Precious air was leaking out of the spacecraft.

The astronauts had to work with the scientists on earth to improvise repairs to the spacecraft, using air from the Lunar Module to breathe, and even leaving the heating off to save battery power, making the journey home very cold. They even had to time a critical engine burn using a wristwatch!

The NASA team worked hard to bring the damaged craft and crew safely home.

Apollo 17 on the moon

The last moon mission

The last Apollo mission in 1972 was the longest moon mission - the crew lived on the moon for three days. They spent over twenty hours exploring the moon's surface, taking 115 kilograms of soil and rocks for study back on earth. As with the previous two Apollo missions, the crew used a Boeing Lunar Rover, a small electric car they used to drive 35 kilometres around the lunar surface during the mission.

The last moon crew included the first ever scientist-astronaut. Before Apollo 17, every NASA astronaut was an expert jet pilot, but for the last trip to the moon, Jack Schmitt was chosen. He was an expert geologist, who was better able to explore, describe and interpret what he saw and found on the moon.

Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon is reflected here in Buzz Aldrin's visor Astronuat Jack Schmitt Astronaut John Young

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Before this, he was a jet pilot who flew the X15 - the fastest aeroplane ever!

After retiring from NASA, Neil Armstrong became a college teacher.

Jack Schmitt was part of the last crew to visit the moon, and the first scientist astronaut. He was a geologist, and could expertly study moon soil and rocks.

Schmitt helped teach the other Apollo astronauts about rocks.

John Young became a famous astronaut, after being a test pilot for the US Navy. He flew on Gemini space missions before going to the moon on Apollo 17.

In 1981 John Young became the first astronaut to pilot the Space Shuttle.

Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Sleeping aboard the Apollo spacecraft Alan Shepard's golf ball

Once on the moon, the astronauts spent some of their time setting out experiments that would transmit information about the moon back to earth. It was tricky to set up these experiments, whilst wearing a space suit, and not all of them worked!

Living on the moon was far from comfortable. Both astronauts slept in the cramped Lunar module, which did not even have any beds - the astronauts slept on the floor. On the Apollo 17 mission, two astronauts lived in this tiny spacecraft for three days!

While exploring the moon's surface, Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard famously hit two golf balls, to demonstrate to the public the effect of low gravity on a familiar object. He reported that ball went for "miles and miles!"

Astronaut Alan Bean Astronaut Jim Lovell Astronaut Alan Shepard

Alan Bean was the fourth visitor to the moon, as part of the Apollo 12 crew.

After his moon visit he became an artist, painting moon scenes. When he paints he adds genuine moon dust to the paintings for texture!

Jim Lovell took the trip to the moon not once, but twice!

Sadly, he never actually got to walk on the moon - Apollo 8 was not designed to land, and Apollo 13 could not because it was damaged by an explosion on the way.

Alan Shepard was commander of the Apollo 14 moon landing.

He had been the second man in space after Yuri Gagarin in 1961, but could not fly as an astronaut again until 1969 because of an ear disease.

Future Moon rocket

Return to the moon

NASA is working towards a return to the moon, scheduled for 2020. The new spacecraft that will take astronauts there will be very similar to the Apollo spacecraft, using giant rockets to lift off from the earth.

Four crew members will go to the moon each time, and all four will land and explore. When they leave the moon, the parts of their spacecraft will be left behind as building blocks, from which a permanent moon base will be constructed.

An artists impression of the new moon rocket is shown on the left.

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