Everyone knows (or should know!) that humans have walked on the moon. We should also probably have an idea how many humans have done so, but we probably don’t. Here’s what you should know.
NASA has had several space programs but only one of them resulted in humans landing on the moon. The Apollo Program was NASA’s third human spaceflight program and ran from 1961 to 1972. While the first two programs, projects Mercury and Gemini, developed the technology for getting man into space and back safely, Apollo focused specifically on going to the moon. It consisted of 12 missions, six of which brought the humans to the moon, including the July 20, 1969 mission that saw Neil Armstrong become the first human to set foot on the moon. During those six missions, a total of 12 men have walked on the moon. We are still looking forward to the first woman on the moon.
This is not to be confused with the first human in space, an honor that goes to the Russians. In a triumph for the Soviet space program, cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok 1 spacecraft completed one orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Three weeks later, on 5 May, the United States countered by flying Alan Shepard and his Freedom 7 into space. While Shepard did not orbit the Earth, the journey was sufficient to claim that the USA had also sent a man into space. Three weeks after that, on 25 May 1961, President Kennedy stood before a special joint session of Congress asking them to further fund America’s a space program. “I believe,” he said, “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 the earth.” Congress agreed, and Project Apollo accomplished the goal with five months to spare.
While all twelve men who have walked on the moon are Americans, two other nations have landed unmanned spacecraft successfully on the moon: the U.S.S.R. in 1976 and China in 2013. The next most likely nation to land on the moon is probably Japan. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has planned a multi-year Lunar Exploration Program of manned and unmanned missions to the moon.