When Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the moon’s cratered surface with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, ” every nation on earth seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. National Moon Day celebrates not only the historic lunar landing on July 20, 1969, but the day also reminds us of the uphill slog to get the space program literally off the ground. On National Moon Day, we remember both the quirky and profound moments in the space race that ended with the Americans being the first to plant their flag on the moon. Stick around— the story is fascinating!
National Moon Day timeline
President Kennedy initiates NASA's work on a manned lunar landing
In a historic speech on May 25, President John F. Kennedy signals the start of Nasa's Apollo space program as well as his plan to see an American on the Moon by the end of the decade.
Americans see first TV images of the moon's surface
For the first time, American TV viewers get to view the Moon's cratered surface from images transmitted by NASA's unmanned probe, Ranger 7.
Americans watch as Apollo 8 repeats its orbit 10 times around the moon
NASA's Apollo 8 orbits the Moon 10 times as the first manned flight while Americans watch on television.
Apollo 11 lands on the moon in a historic first
The world breathlessly watches as Apollo 11's three-man team becomes the first humans to step onto the Moon's surface.
NASA's Apollo program comes to an end
NASA shuts down its Apollo program with a final manned landing — Apollo 17.
Coming soon: Mars?
No less than five (unmanned) missions are set for between 2020 and 2021. This includes NASA's Mars 2020 rover.
National Moon Day Activities
Visit your local planetarium
If you really want to get up close and personal with the moon, visit your local planetarium. These domed theaters, with massive telescopes, project images of the starry night skies filled with countless spectacular objects we may not be able to see with the naked eye. Visiting the planetarium encourages us to learn about our universe and, more importantly, where we fit in as human beings. Going to a planetarium is also a unique, educational experience where we can learn about astronomy and other related sciences.
Hang out with your local astronomy club
Are you a student lucky enough to have an astronomy club on campus? If so, don't miss the opportunity to sit in on a discussion of the first moon landing or share looks through a telescope. An astronomy club can point you in the direction of upcoming events where other like-minded souls gather to discuss all the celestial bodies in the universe.
Make plans to see the next lunar eclipse
Get ready for a night time show! Put a reminder in your calendar about the next lunar eclipse. Make plans to bring a picnic basket filled with goodies, a blanket, binoculars or a telescope and head out to your favorite viewing spot. Enjoy one of nature's most dramatic shows!
5 Spacey Tidbits About America's First Lunar Landing
Three African-American women got us there
Mathematician Katherine Johnson, along with two other black women, were instrumental in calculating NASA's routes to the moon for its first lunar landing. Director Theodore Melfi and writer Allison Schroeder finally told their story in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
Wright Brothers along for the ride
Armstrong felt it was important to show how aviation had progressed which is why he carried a small piece of wood from one of the Wright Brothers' planes.
By the time it landed, the Lunar Module barely had any fuel left.
Over 600 million people around the world watched the live lunar landing, eclipsing all previous TV ratings records.
Washington prepared for the worst
President Nixon had an alternate speech ready in case the mission failed.
Why We Love National Moon Day
The moon exploded into existence
Call it the 'Big Whack'! The moon formed when a giant Mars-sized object hit earth 4.6 billion years ago and a cloud of vaporized rock spun into orbit encircling the earth. Once the cloud cooled, it transformed into smaller chunks that combined together, creating our moon.
The moon is not as big as you think
Although the moon is the brightest object we see in the night sky, its diameter is about one-quarter the size of Earth but with less gravity. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you'd only weigh 25 pounds on the moon. Also, our moon is not the largest one in the galaxy. The moon is only about the fifth largest one in our immediate solar system.
The moon shakes with quakes
The moon has earthquakes (or in this case, moonquakes) that sometimes form cracks where gasses escape. What a strange landscape for the Apollo crew to walk on, don't you think?
National Moon Day dates