Lunacy! A Look Back At Our Fascination With The Moon

Feb. 4, 2010: President Obama has announced a sweeping plan to freeze all non-security discretionary spending beginning in 2011. Administration officials have since worked hard to clarify the proposal, resurrecting the campaign language of the scalpel. But one of NASA’s most famed programs received the full axe. As a part of the budget changes, the White House declared it would end NASA’s $100 billion plans to send astronauts back to the moon. Constellation, the program on the chopping block, was the pet space project of President George W. Bush. The Obama Administration, which explained that it was not abandoning NASA, plans to redirect funds to rocket research. But some identified this measure as the end of our trips to the moon. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) lamented the move as the “death march for the future of U.S. human space flight,” though Congress has yet to approve the cut.

In light of the recent news, TPM looks back at some of the landmark images of our long love affair with our moon. Above, a view of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission in December, 1972.

During the 1960s, Neil Armstrong worked on the X-15 program as a NASA test pilot. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is pictured here with the experimental rocket-powered aircraft, which was designed to reach high altitudes and speeds so that engineers could gather data on aircraft and spacecraft design.


January 1, 1961: Ham, the 3-year-old chimpanzee bound for for the Mecury Redstone suborbital test flight, tries on his spacesuit. The test flight was conducted before the NASA launched its first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, in May, 1961.

May 25, 1961: Before the joint session of Congress, President John F. Kennedy delivers his famous speech challenging the country to touch down on the moon: “I believe 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 the Earth.”

October 15, 1965: Scientists at the NASA Langley Research Center test the Reduced Gravity Walking Simulator in preparation for the Apollo Project trip.

December 24, 1968: Astronauts from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, show pictures of the Earth from a live broadcast in orbit. They end the broadcast reading passages from Genesis.

July 20, 1969: Launched on July 16th, the famous three man crew of Apollo 11 become the first of the planet’s inhabitants to touch down on the lunar soil.

July 19, 2007: Neil Amstrong became the first man on the moon, delivering his famous line: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Nearly 40 years later, he recreates the famed first landing, casting his footprint at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

July 24, 1969: After returning from their epic journey, the astronauts from Apollo 11 are visited by President Richard Nixon. The crew is (from left to right) Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, lunar module pilot.

November 10, 1969: Charles Conrad Jr., the commander of Apollo 12, walks on the lunar surface.

April 14, 1970: Astronauts and flight controllers crowd around monitors in NASA’s Mission Operations Control Room as the Apollo 13 crew attempted to return with their crippled spacecraft.

February, 1971: Astronaut Edgar Mitchell stands by the American flag, plotted down on the moon’s soil during the Apollo 14 lunar landing.

July 16, 1971: During the Apollo 15 mission, astronaut James Irwin takes a lunar surface vehicle for a spin.

August 1, 1971: A vehicle driven by David Scott roams the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

April 21, 1972: An astronaut examines the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Apollo 16 mission.

December 16, 1972: Apollo 17 module pilot Harrison Schmitt (in suit) shares a laugh with fellow astronaut Alan Shepard during the mission’s pre-launch training.

1972: A boulder on the moon dwarfs an Apollo 17 astronaut walking past.

July 22, 1989: Even as the Cold War space race withered, Americans remained fascinated with NASA’s missions to the moon. On the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing, a float moves past in a parade outside the Johnson Space Center. You can see the TPM 40th anniversary tribute to the first moon landing here.

January 15, 2004: President George W. Bush waves goodbye after delivering a speech at the NASA headquarters outlining an ambitious plan for the agency. The Constellation program aimed to return Americans to the moon by 2020, utilizing the mission as a platform for future trips to Mars.


NASA has not been shy about their hopes to return to our lunar surface. The caption for this photo from their website reads: “Twelve people walked on the Moon in an era before cell phones, before hybrid cars, and before laptop computers. It’s time to return.”

March 24, 2009: Flanked by school children and Members of Congress, President Obama speaks with astronauts on the International Space Station from the Roosevelt Room.

April 5, 2004: Two elementary school students in Palm Beach, FL wait to greet Kennedy Space Center Director Jim Kennedy and astronaut Sam Durrance.