On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and onto the moon’s surface. When they and fellow astronaut Michael Collins returned to Earth four days later, they fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon and return him home safely.
The National Aeronautical and Space Administration, then a relatively new government agency, played the lead role in the mission, but NASA didn’t do it alone. Cartographers from predecessor agencies of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency created detailed maps and charts of the lunar surface, which provided NASA scientists and technicians precise coordinates and optional landing sites.
Beginning in 1957 and 1958, respectively, the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center and the Army Map Service initiated efforts to collect telescope observations and photographic data with an eye toward composing maps of the moon. With this step, the cause of lunar mapping enlisted for the first time the services of professional cartographers experienced in the production of terrestrial maps of the highest quality.
Without the work of the ACIC and AMS – and later the Defense Mapping Agency – NASA would not have had the critical knowledge of the moon necessary for the American manned space missions.