One Small Step

One Small Step
Jackie Kennedy: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: two hours


On May 25, 1961, before a joint meeting of Congress, President John  F. Kennedy said, “I believe 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 Earth.”  President Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy did live to see her husband’s promise fulfilled.  Where Jacqueline Kennedy was on the day man landed on the moon is unknown, but it is likely she was in Greece with her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, whom she had married nine months previously.


In this lesson students will explore the steps taken to fulfill President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon as well as the costs and difficulties of fulfilling that promise and the historical events that motivated the nation to do so. 

Students will also be given the opportunity to practice their reading skills.

Materials Required:

Student access to the Internet, or classroom access to the Internet with projector capabilities, or a computer with Internet access and a printer. Use of the Space Race timeline link


This activity could be done in one of three ways, depending on available resourses.  The first way would be to use a computer in the classroom with Internet access and a projector for the computer.  Below are 16 questions and answers as well as additional commentary for the teacher to use.  Go to the following NASA web site where a slideshow entitled “Race to Space,” is located:

Distribute the sixteen questions below (sans the answers and teacher commentary).   Tell students that while watching the slideshow they need to keep alert to clues from the questions and write them down when they hear or see one.  

Have a different student read each slide and enlarge all photos.  

When an answer or part of an answer is on screen, pause and provide the commentary for each question (provided below, after the answer, in parentheses).  

Alternately, if a computer with Internet and projection capabilities is not available, but students have access to computers with Internet capabilities, have students search for the answers and supply the corresponding commentary afterward as the class reviews the questions and answers.  Finally, if access to the Internet is not available in the school, the teachers can print the slides and photos, place them around the room and students can search these printed pages for answers.

1.  Who created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and why?
- President Dwight Eisenhower, due to public concern over the launching of the satellite Sputnik by the Soviet Union.
(Explain to students that much like our concern today regarding terrorist attacks, in the 1950’s and 1960’s there was great concern that the Soviet Union would attack the United States and use Sputnik to do so.)
2.  Why were astronauts kept in isolation after returning from space and for how long?
- Fear of alien organisms, and for 21 days.
(Explain to students that once it was discovered that the Moon was devoid of life this practice ended.)
3.  Who were the first two Americans to go into space on Pioneer IV?
- Able and Baker (two monkeys) who were American-born, to avoid diplomatic repercussions with India where monkeys are viewed as sacred.
(Explain to students that monkeys were first sent into space for safety reasons. Both monkeys survived the flight, but Able died four days after the flight due to the anesthesia used to remove an implant which was placed in Able to measure what going into space might do to the astronauts.)
4.  Who were the Mercury astronauts and why are they significant?
- Walter Schirra, Donald Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Alan Sheppard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Gordon Cooper because they were selected to be the first men in space.
(Explain to students the extreme courage it took to be one of the Mercury astronauts because with each flight it was not known if they would survive; 24 astronauts (and eight cosmonauts) have died in service to the space program.)
5.  Who was the first person in space, who was the first American man in space, and who was the first American to orbit the earth?
- Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn, respectively. 
(Explain to students that though John Glenn was the third man in space he became the most well known because of his ability to serve as a spokesman for the space program.)
6.  Why, according to President Kennedy, was it important to land on the Moon and how long did he give Americans do so?
- The “battle … between “freedom and tyranny;”  “before the decade is out” or nine and one-half years.
(Explain to students what a decade is and why such a goal was daring to make (i.e.We did not know how to do this at the time or if we would ever be able to do so and some believe we never actually did do so.)
7.  What is the connection between a 20 dollar bill and the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
- In early February 1962, George B. Kiastkowsky, Assistant to President Kennedy, bet James E. Webb, head of the NASA lunar program, that John Glenn would never fly in space. Webb won the bet on February 20, 1962 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts on December 9, 1968.
(Explain to students that Webb was not an astronaut, he was a lawyer and businessman with strong management skills.) 
8.  How did NASA explore the Moon before landing a man on the Moon?
- Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter
(Explain to students that these methods have since been used to explore Mars and that President George W. Bush has made statements about landing a man on Mars, much like President Kennedy made statement about landing a man on the Moon.  The difference this time, though, is that no fear exists, such as the Cold War, to fuel the urgency of the project.)
9.  What was the difference between the survival equipment for the Mercury program and the survival equipment for the Apollo program?
- Mercury astronauts took standard military issued survival equipment and Apollo took survival equipment designed for astronauts. 
(Explain to students that the shark repellent that Mercury astronauts took to space could have been used to repel sharks when the space capsules landed in the ocean.One astronaut may have actually used this repellant because when the hatch blew during his landing he had to get out of the space craft to avoid drowning before it was hoisted on a ship.)
10.  How many units made up the Gemini space craft and what were their purposes?
- two; 1) re-entry module and 2) crew cabin and heat shield
(An example of the danger astronauts faced was that during lift off part of the heat shield of John Glenn’s space craft fell off; NASA did not know if he would return safely)
11.  How long was the Gemini 7 mission, what was it’s purpose and how much space did Frank Borman and Jim Lowell have to live in while on the flight?
- Two weeks; to learn the effects of long term weightlessness; and the size of the front half a VW bug.
(To demonstrate the space of their confinement, tape off on the floor a four foot by four foot area (not exact dimensions, but it will give students an idea) and place two students in chairs in the space and tell them to imagine what it would be like to be in this space for two weeks and not be allowed to leave.  If a four foot cardboard cube is available (i.e. refrigerator or stove box) place it over the students or cut a hole out of it and let all students enter two at a time.) 

12.  Who were the first three astronauts to die in the space program?
- Virgil “Gus” Grissom
-  Edward H. White
-  Roger Chaffee
(The astronauts died because they were sealed in the capsule. An escape hatch on the launch took too long to open to save the astronauts.   Virgil “Gus” Grissom was perhaps the most unlucky astronaut.  The hatch of his first space craft opened during landing and he almost drowned and then in his second flight he died during lift-off procedures. 

13.  Who was the first man on the Moon and how many men have been on the Moon?
- Neil Armstrong, 12.
(Explain to students what Neil Armstrong’s first statement when landing on the Moon means – “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (I.e. endless possibilities for future space exploration.)
14.  What did the astronauts eat and how did they go to the bathroom?
- They ate freeze-dried food and used a urine tube and fecal bag.  The urine was sent into space; the fecal matter was stored in a sanitation box until the spacecraft returned to earth.
(Explain to students that prior to going into space, due to zero gravity, it was not known if basic human processes were possible.)
15.  Why are astronauts restrained when sleeping?
- So they do not float within the space capsule and interfere with the operation of the spacecraft.
(Explain that if not for centrifugal force and gravity, we too would float around in the air and that weightlessness is similar, but not exactly like being in water, because water is also influenced by centrifugal force and gravity, but less than when on ground.)
16.  What and why were tongs used during lunar experiments?
- Tongs were long instruments to collect soil and rock samples from the Moon and were necessary because the 25 layers that made up the space suits to keep the astronaut safe, also made bending very difficult.
(The soil and rock samples from the Moon can now be found in museums around the country, including the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. and they look much like rocks on earth.)

Extending the Lesson:

Like the original Mercury seven, the astronauts who might land on Mars will have scientific data to analyze prior to landing, but will not know what it is actually like until they do so.  Have students write a creative story as if they are one of those astronauts during the preparatory stage.  Prior or after writing the creative story, students would gain a greater understanding of the experience by watching all or portions of the movie The Right Stuff and/or reading the book The Right Stuff.

Sources & Resources:


Wolfe, Tom.  The Right Stuff.  Bantam Books: 1980.  



Kaufman, Philip (Dir.)  and Wolfe, Tom.  The Right Stuff.  Burbank: Warner Home Video, 1997.


This lesson plan was inspired by a lesson plan posted on Glencoe McGraw Hill, American Odyssey: The 20th Century and Beyond website -  

This lesson was adapted by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.