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Ask Cokie: The 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 11


That phrase about one small step for man is about to be out of date. The Trump administration has promised to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. The new plans for space come amid celebrations of the anniversary of the first moon landing 50 years ago. That feat grew out of a U.S. space race with the Soviet Union that changed much of American life. Here's President Dwight Eisenhower talking about Sputnik 1, the satellite first launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957.


DWIGHT EISENHOWER: We congratulate Soviet scientists upon putting a satellite into orbit. The United States satellite program has been designed from its inception for maximum result in scientific research.

INSKEEP: Now, the U.S. is turning its eyes upward again. And space is our topic as we ask Cokie. Cokie Roberts joins us regularly to talk about how politics and the government work. Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: And here's our first question.

BRIDGET HALLIGAN: I'm Bridget Halligan (ph) of Des Moines, Iowa. Is anyone actually still interested in going to space or what space exploration offers us? It seems the hype was huge when the program started years ago but appears it's become a joke with Space Force.

ROBERTS: Actually, recent polling, Steve, shows a good bit of interest in the program. A CBS survey conducted in June showed fully 3/4 saying the moon shot was worth it in terms of time and money. And about the same number said they favored sending astronauts to explore Mars. And close to that member favor sending astronauts back to the moon - although almost as many said they personally would not like to go (laughter).

INSKEEP: OK, not for everybody.

ROBERTS: Now, in terms of a space force, that's a whole new branch of the military proposed by President Trump. A Pew survey in May and June does show significant opposition to that - about 60%. But people still strongly support U.S. leadership in space, though clearly it's not what it was back at the beginning of the program when the whole country sat up and took notice.

INSKEEP: How did the country take notice?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, after World War II, the Soviets weren't supposed to be beating us. And suddenly we heard that they've sent these beach-ball-sized objects, weighing more than 180 pounds, to orbit the Earth. And I remember it well. It was a huge shock.

Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson called extensive hearings. Then the U.S. tried and failed to send up our own satellite. So we rushed to set up NASA to formally launch a space program in 1958. Then the Soviets shocked us again by sending a man into space in 1961, which led to President Kennedy's famous goal for putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

INSKEEP: One of the question comes from Vance Cotrolla (ph), who wants to know if there is political support for space exploration today.

VANCE COTROLLA: Is there any congressional appetite to actually allocate funding for the next moon shot, whatever it might be - a trip to Mars or a different project?

ROBERTS: If you go by the budget numbers, there absolutely is congressional support. And NASA's been getting what it asks for and more in recent budgets. And it's aggressively promoting the moon shot and a human on Mars. The language, Steve, is so similar to what I heard in the 1950s.

The program will provide for American leadership in space, expand the U.S. global impact, but also that it will create a whole new generation of science, technology, engineering and math - STEM learners. And really that's part of the original space program that might have had the most long-lasting effect.

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks as always.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Commentator Cokie Roberts. And you can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and the government work by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskCokie.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTIN HURWITZ'S "APOLLO 11 LAUNCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.