American Portraits

One Giant Leap for Mankind: Neil Armstrong and Courage

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Neil Armstrong, who led the Apollo 11 space mission and became the first man to walk on the moon. They will also consider how to cultivate and apply courage in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


On July 5, 1969, three astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, were answering questions from reporters at a press conference about ten days before their historic trip aboard Apollo 11. When asked whether the mission was worth the billions of dollars it cost, Armstrong responded, “I think we’re going to the moon because it’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It’s by the nature of his deep inner soul.” His answer perfectly captured the curiosity that led humans to try to land on the moon and the courage that was needed by all the astronauts who flew in rockets into outer space….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your courageous actions help to advance freedom in your life and the lives of others?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Neil Armstrong, who led the Apollo 11 space mission and became the first man to walk on the moon. They will also consider how to cultivate and apply courage in their own lives.


  • Students will evaluate Neil Armstrong’s courage during the early days of the space race.
  • Students will analyze how courageous acts can promote progress.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage to their own lives.


Attempts to land on the Moon were inextricably linked to Cold War tensions and competition as the United States and Russia began a “space race” in the 1950s and 1960s. In October 1957, the Russians sent a satellite, Sputnik, into orbit around the earth and then followed this launch by sending a dog into space. Congress soon created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to organize the American effort to get to space. In April 1961, the Russians again beat the Americans by sending the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. American Alan Shepard made the first U.S. spaceflight shortly after, and President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress the following month and issued a ringing challenge, stating, “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him home safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”

Astronauts were highly-educated, logical, and experienced military test pilots who demonstrated courage, confidence, and competitiveness. They pushed limits and took risks, but not unnecessary ones. They were engineers and problem-solvers who had excellent study habits and a great deal of motivation to work very hard. Neil Armstrong, for example, grew up in Ohio and was an Eagle Scout. He studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University and then flew jet fighters during the Korean War. He courageously worked to enhance human discovery, and in 1969 he was the first human to walk on the Moon.


  • Space race
  • Sputnik
  • NASA
  • Cosmonaut
  • Ringing
  • Commenced
  • Deploy
  • Ticker-tape
  • Quarantine

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions:
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What contributions did Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts make towards the advancement of freedom through their demonstration of courage in the space race?
  • In what ways did Armstrong’s courage contribute to his ability to lead the Apollo 11 mission?

Discussion Questions:
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources


Lesson Image: © NASA

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