In 1969 the United States became the first nation to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth under the Apollo 11 mission. The following six missions all returned to the moon, save the ill-fated Apollo 13.
Since Apollo 17 left the moon in 1972, mankind has not returned, instead setting its sights on missions to low Earth orbit.
For NASA, there is a new directive: return to the moon and travel to Mars, reaching farther than humans have ever traveled.
“We have on our agenda, we are going back to the moon," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “[Our goal is] having a sustainable presence on the moon, around the moon.”
In 1958 NASA took over the reins from its predecessor, The National Committed for Aeronautics. Early on, the young agency was tasked with catching up to early Soviet success in space.
First came project Mercury, to see if humans could even survive in the total vacuum of space. Project Gemini followed, laying the groundwork for NASA to eventually put a man on the moon.
Despite the success of Apollo, NASA's focus shifted.
“While we all love Apollo and the history and the legacy that it left, establishing the U.S. as the preeminent space fairing nation, it is also true that in 1972, we came home and never went back," Bridenstine said.
In the following years, NASA celebrated success with missions like Skylab, the Apollo-Soyuz test and eventually the space shuttle.
After the completion of the International Space Station, NASA was asked to create plans for a permanent human presence on the moon, called Constellation. The program started to develop a new space craft and lay plans to return to the moon and travel to Mars, but it was cancelled in 2011.
Despite the cancellation, Constellation was not without its benefits. The crew capsule designed before the end of the program was called Orion, and it’s that capsule that will take Americans back to the lunar surface and eventually beyond.