LBJ: the 'can-do' man who helped get us to the Moon

50 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson looked up. He'd been out of office for about six months as he watched the three-man crew of Apollo 11 launch into outer space -- a mission that would make history.

"What amazes me is that half a century after this remarkable achievement we can still look back and think 'how did we do that?' said Mark Updegrove, president of the LBJ Foundation.

Updegrove says LBJ was one of the catalysts for forming NASA.

"After the Sputnik launch by the Soviet Union in 1957, that was the first satellite that had been launched into space and it stirred Cold War fears that the Russians were ahead of us technologically," he said.

Not to be outdone, Johnson took action.

"LBJ was the all-powerful Senate majority leader at the time, said 'I will not go to bed at night by the light of a Communist moon,'" Updegrove said.

The LBJ Presidential Library has the "NASA pen" on display. In 1958, President Eisenhower signed the act sponsored by then-Senator Johnson that created NASA. LBJ got to keep the pen.

The Soviets sent a man into orbit in 1961. President John F. Kennedy told the country he wanted to get an American astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade.

"Lyndon Johnson was what he would have called a 'can-do' man,” Updegrove said. “He found a way to build NASA, to galvanize our space efforts and to ensure that we would meet President Kennedy's goal.”

Ira Marcus and his family are visiting the LBJ Library from Chicago.

"We were all excited to watch this great opportunity and achievement," Marcus said.

Marcus says there's no reason why we can't continue to explore the stars.

"Sure, I mean I don't think there's anything that can really stop us. We just have to have the technology and the science," he said.  

Updegrove was just a kid when Armstrong left his footprints on the moon, but like most people around the world who were alive at the time...he remembers where he was.

"We were at the Jersey Shore on vacation, my father woke my brother and me up and said 'this is really important you've got to see this' and it was one of those few occasions in the history of the world where humankind came together around a single achievement,” Updegrove said. “And America was at the forefront of that achievement, it was something we should all be proud of.”

Answers are coming to the big questions: Are we going back to the moon and when are we going to Mars? President Trump wants to give NASA about a billion and a half more dollars to do make those trips.

NASA says they want to get the first woman on the moon by 2024.