It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 50 years since the first Moon landing and this week people from all over the world are celebrating the anniversary of “a giant leap for mankind.”

More than 400,000 people worked behind the scenes at NASA to make it happen, culminating a decade of space exploration, full of success, heartbreak, and disaster. In one of the most turbulent times in American history with a Cold War backdrop, three Americans became overnight heroes around the world.

“We choose to go to the Moon”

President Kennedy’s words, given at Rice Stadium in Texas in 1962 sounded like fantasy then, but seven years later, they became a reality. Unfortunately for Kennedy, he wouldn’t live to see it, as a year after he made the inspirational speech, he’d be killed by an assassin’s bullet.

Kennedy’s words put the United States firmly in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. The Soviets were involved in the Cold War with the West and were two steps ahead from the very beginning.

The Soviets launched the first satellite, “Sputnik,” in 1958. They were determined to beat the U.S. in every facet of the Space Race and to be the first to land a man on the Moon. The Soviets also had the first space probe to touch the Moon, Luna 2.

Kennedy’s urging and backing got NASA moving. NASA was created in 1958 and things finally got moving when Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists were brought on-board. Von Braun ran the V2 program for the Germans during World War II and was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party before surrendering to the Americans at the close of the war.

Von Braun was named director of NASA in the summer of 1960 and would oversee the program until January of 1970.