‘People felt safe again’ after moon landing

When the United States put a man on the moon, it wasn’t just a source of national pride. There was a strong national security element. John Mangus of Warren was in the U.S. Army when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial earth satellite — Sputnik — in 1957.

He and other soldiers were called into a room and shown a video.

“At that moment, the Space Race was on,” Mangus said. “We were so far behind the Russians. There was a big push to catch up.”

For more than a decade, the Russian threat loomed very largely.

Wernher Von Braun, who later worked for NASA, developed the supersonic V2 Rocket for Germany during World War II, Mangus said. That weapon gave the Germans the fearsome ability to drop explosives on London from across the English Channel. There was no need to endanger pilots. There was no meaningful defense.

The Russians had developed nuclear weapons. With the launches of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet Union coupled that weapon with a delivery system that could reach anywhere on the planet.

“Here was Russia with these missiles that could launch things around the world,” he said.

The month after Gagarin became the first person launched into earth orbit in 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

“He essentially gave Houston Space Center a blank check,” Mangus said. “Cost was not a consideration.”

It was an ambitious effort, but the United States was up to the challenge.

Mangus joined NASA in 1962 and was working at Goddard Space Flight Center when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.

He said the moon landing allowed the country a collective sigh of relief.

“People felt safe again,” Mangus said.