(CBS Local)– It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 became the first crewed mission to make it to the moon.
While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became overnight heroes for their historic journey, there were hundreds of thousands of men and women that helped make this historic moment possible. Author Charles Fishman recounts the contributions of these ordinary people in his new Simon & Schuster book “One Giant Leap. Fishman has been fascinated by the story behind Apollo for years.
“It’s a rollicking story. We completely lost track of how much of an adventure it was,” said Fishman in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “We sent three electric cars to the moon and astronauts drove around and laughed hysterically. It was an incredible thrill ride, it was an incredible adventure and Americans and the whole world got to go along. It’s fun to unpack that. NASA almost forgot to take a flag. Just a few weeks before Apollo 11 was supposed to blast off, NASA hadn’t even thought about the celebration.”
Man on the moon wouldn’t have become a realistic possibility without President John F. Kennedy’s declaration to Congress in 1961 that the United States should land a man on the moon by 1970. While JFK didn’t live to see the end result, Fishman believes his assassination had a huge impact on the timing of Apollo 11’s trip into space.
“We would not have gone to the moon if John F. Kennedy in literally the fifth month of his presidency hadn’t said let’s go to the moon,” said Fishman. “Going to the moon was a Cold War sort of battlefront. The Russians were literally skunking the United States. One after another, they ticked off milestones that we were not hitting. The Cold War wasn’t some sort of athletic contest, real wars were fought in the Cold War. People around the world were really impressed with what the Soviets were doing. Kennedy said we have to find a way of reminding the world who the actual dominant scientific and engineering technology power in the world is.”
During his research for the book, Fishman discovered that there were secret tapes that Kennedy made in the White House about space.
“There are two really important conversations about space that were private,” said Fishman. “The contents of which didn’t come out until literally 25 years after his death. In those conversations, he expresses a lot of doubt about the cost of going to the moon and what that cost was preventing him from doing otherwise. He said over and over again that the only reason we are doing this is to beat the Russians. That was not his public stance. In one of those tapes he was told we will not go to the moon while you’re president, even if you get a second term. It’s very clear that had Kennedy not been killed and had won a second term, I don’t think we would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The assassination created this whole political aura of political protection around going to the moon. Going to the moon became a tribute to John Kennedy’s dreams and leadership.”
“One Giant Leap” is available wherever books are purchased.