New York City welcomes Apollo 11 crewmen in a showering of ticker tape down Broadway and Park Avenue in a parade termed as the largest in the city's history. Image: NASA

Moon, Man, and Myths

The 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, BackStory launches into the history of America’s race to the moon. We’ll hear from flight director Gene Kranz about what it was like in Mission Control during the moon landing. And we’ll explore a kind of Apollo nostalgia that has crept into movies and other forms of pop culture. Plus, stay tuned throughout the episode to hear from our listeners about their memories of the moon landing.

This episode and related resources are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this show, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

00:00:00 / 00:00:00
View Resources

Moon Landing Lesson Set

Download the Lesson Set

On July 20, 1969, the United States celebrated an amazing scientific achievement: landing the Apollo 11 on the surface of the moon. As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the lunar surface, the American public watched with nationalistic pride. This singular moment was the culmination of a decade of extensive efforts by the U.S. government and the scientific community. It also served as a public declaration of international supremacy during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

This lesson reflects on the legacy of the “space race” during the 1960s. Fifty years after the fact, the moon landing is still celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in human history. However, this era is also often treated with an uncritical nostalgia. For many Americans, the Apollo 11 mission represents a moment of unity at a calamitous time in American history. For other Americans, the “space race” was a distraction from the fight for civil rights and the intractable conflict in Vietnam.

As you go through the lesson, encourage students to think critically about these contradictions. Why does the Apollo 11 mission remain the subject of American nostalgia after fifty years? What role did the space race play in advancing social, economic, and geopolitical interests? How should we reflect on this time period as students of history?