Trailblazers: Neil Armstrong is a part of the Trailblazers collection.
Bring history home and meet some of the world's greatest game changers! Get inspired by the true story of the first person to ever walk on the moon. This biography series is for kids who loved Who Was? and are ready for the next level.
On July 20, 1969, the whole world was watching Neil Armstrong. He was the first person ever to set foot on the moon! But how did he achieve such an amazing feat? From a childhood spent building model planes to an early career as a test pilot, Neil was always fascinated by aviation. Find out how this boy who loved planes became one of history's greatest trailblazers!
Trailblazers is a biography series that celebrates the lives of amazing pioneers, past and present, from all over the world. Get inspired by more Trailblazers: Neil Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Jane Goodall, Harriet Tubman, Albert Einstein, Beyoncé, and Simone Biles. What kind of trail will you blaze?
An Excerpt fromTrailblazers: Neil Armstrong
One Sunday evening, 238,855 miles (384,400 km) above Earth, an astronaut crawled through the hatch of Apollo 11’s lunar module (LM). Neil Armstrong, dressed in his bulky spacesuit, began descending the ladder toward the silver surface beneath him. A television camera attached to the spacecraft sent blurry black-and-white images of his progress to hundreds of millions of people watching back on Earth.
It was July 20, 1969, one of the most important dates in the history of exploration. For the first time, a human being was going to set foot on the moon.
“The surface appears to be very, very fine-grained as you get close to it,” Neil reported. “It’s almost like a powder.”
He continued down the ladder until he reached the bottommost rung. “I’m going to step off the LM now,” he said. None of the millions of people watching on their television sets would ever forget the next moment as, very slowly, he stepped off the ladder and planted his left foot on lunar soil.
The Space Race
So why was Neil Armstrong on the moon in the first place? Well, it was all because of a competition that had started when he was a teenager—a competition not between people, but between countries.
After World War II ended in 1945, the world was dominated by two great powers—the United States and the Soviet Union—and they began a rivalry known as the Cold War. Both countries recruited German rocket scientists who had worked on longrange missiles during the war to help them build a new generation of rockets. These missiles were armed with nuclear warheads and could reach the enemy across a distance of thousands of miles. Rockets with such power also had the potential to launch a satellite into orbit, and the two nations soon began to compete for the conquest of space. It became known as the:
The Soviet Union got off to a great start. On October 4, 1957, they launched Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. This was followed in November of that year by Sputnik 2, which carried the first animal, a dog named Laika, into orbit.
The Americans were shocked into action. They sped up their own program, and in December 1957 invited the world’s press to observe the launch of their first satellite. Unfortunately, the Vanguard rocket exploded on the launchpad.
This was a national humiliation, and the Americans realized they had work to do to catch up with the Soviet Union. The following month, they successfully launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, and in July 1958, the United States established a new organization called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which was dedicated to advancing space exploration. Meanwhile, the Soviets kept piling up more achievements:
LUNA 1 FIRST SPACECRAFT TO TRAVEL CLOSE TO MOON!
LUNA 2 STRIKES MOON’S SURFACE!
SOVIET PILOT YURI GAGARIN BECOMES FIRST HUMAN IN SPACE!
VENERA 1 FLIES BY VENUS
VALENTINA TERESHKOVA: FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE
Man on the Moon
In December 1958, NASA announced a space program called Project Mercury. They began launching their own astronauts into space, starting with Alan Shepard in May 1961. Yet the Americans knew they would have to come up with something much more ambitious if they were ever to gain a lead in the Space Race. On May 25, 1961, US President John F. Kennedy set out a new objective:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.
The idea of landing a man on the moon in just eight years seemed wildly optimistic in 1961, considering how little America had achieved in space until that point. But the government poured billions of dollars into the project. Mercury was followed by Project Gemini, which aimed to develop space-travel techniques to support a moon landing.
Between March 1965 and November 1966, ten crewed Gemini missions flew, and some remarkable advances were made. Astronauts took the first spacewalks—stepping outside their craft in spacesuits. They also learned how to join two spacecraft in orbit, which is called docking. These were all crucial steps on the road to the moon landing.
Gemini was followed by the Apollo program. The Apollo spacecraft were the first to take astronauts beyond Earth orbit to the moon. They were carried into orbit by a rocket called Saturn V. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Saturn V was the biggest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket in history. The spacecraft included a command/service module, carrying the crew and supplies, and the lunar module for landing on the moon.
In December 1968, Apollo 8 became the first spacecraft to take humans beyond Earth orbit. Astronauts James Lovell, Frank Borman, and William “Bill” Anders were the very first people to see Earth as a planet. They went into orbit around the moon and saw the moon’s far side, which is never visible from Earth.
The Apollo 10 mission involved practicing docking the lunar module with the command/service module in lunar orbit. By now, astronauts had practiced almost everything and had proven it to work. Neil Armstrong would command the next mission, Apollo 11. It aimed to land a man on the moon.