In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced a goal of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth" before the end of the decade, the mission seemed all but impossible.
"[The U.S.] didn’t have a spaceship that could fly to the moon," journalist Charles Fishman notes. "We didn’t have a rocket that could launch to the moon. We didn’t have a computer small enough or powerful enough to do the navigation necessary to get people to the moon. We didn’t have space food."
There was even some disagreement about whether human beings would be able to think in zero gravity.
Nevertheless, the race to the moon was on — especially after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth, on April 12, 1961. Fishman’s new book, One Giant Leap, tells the story of the ordinary people who mobilized behind the Apollo program to pull off the most extraordinary human achievement: the July 20, 1969, moon landing.
Fishman notes that 410,000 men and women at some 20,000 different companies contributed to the effort. They designed, built and tested the spacecraft and equipment the astronauts used — often working by hand.
"It was an enormous undertaking," he says. "It’s 10 times the effort to build the Panama Canal. Three times the size of the Manhattan Project. … Apollo was the biggest nonmilitary effort in the history of human civilization."