On a late summer day in 1962, U.S. President John F Kennedy announced that Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade. Mere weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened the fate of the world, Kennedy was promising to catch up and pass the Soviet Union in the space race. The following fall, in November 1963, Kennedy was assassinated.

While President Kennedy died in Dallas, his push for the Moon did not. Hundreds of thousands of NASA employees made beating the Soviets to the lunar surface, and doing it by the end of the decade, their lone goal. The two sides traded successes and failures, winners and runners-up for the rest of the decade, until July 1969.

With the successful launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, three American astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins — were on their way to the Moon and into history books. Four days later, on a summer Sunday, as an estimated 500 million people watched on television back on Earth and Collins watched from two miles above the lunar surface, Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon. Aldrin followed minutes later.

Americans made it to the Moon by the end of the decade. Armstrong and Aldrin planted an American flag. They also left a plaque reading, in part: “We came in peace, for all mankind.”