Author: Ben Nussbaum
The Apollo 11 moon landing was truly a global event. An estimated 500 million people watched it live, or roughly 15 percent of the entire population of the planet.
In fact, as much as it stirred American pride, the moon landing was always meant for the rest of the world. The space race of the 1960s was explicitly a contest between the Soviets and the Americans. In part the goal was military dominance, as the exact potential for these new technologies was unknown. But even more important was the propaganda value of a victory.
The Soviets had launched the first satellite, Sputnik. They had put the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. As emerging countries debated whether to join forces with the communist USSR or the capitalist U.S.A., these Soviet accomplishments seemed to offer proof that it was the USSR – not the U.S.A. – that had the more advanced civilization.
Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson in succession poured more and more money into NASA in an attempt to earn the U.S. its first clear victory in the space race. At its peak in 1966, NASA employed (directly or as contractors) around 400,000 people. The Apollo project is estimated to have cost, in total, about $160 billion in current dollars.
The Apollo 11 moon landing propaganda victory wasn’t relegated to sleepy schoolkids in the U.K. While China, North Korea, and North Vietnam didn’t allow coverage of the event, it was on the front page of Pravda in the Soviet Union. Across the developing world it was occasion for rapturous coverage. But perhaps most surprising was the response from the countries of Eastern Europe: In Bucharest the Romanian Communist party’s official newspaper proclaimed the landing “one of the most extraordinary deeds in the whole history of mankind.” In Prague it was hailed as “a historic victory for mankind.” In Belgrade a newspaper hoped that “this scientific feat … will be the immediate stimulus for activity to consolidate world peace and understanding.”
The demoralized Soviets, for their part, were so far behind that they gave up on manned moon missions, refocusing their efforts on orbiting space stations.
In total 12 men would walk on the moon as part of the Apollo missions. The last was Eugene Cernan on December 13, 1972.