Remembering how JFK sparked the dream which was landing on the Moon.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before a special joint session of Congress with a highly ambitious and peculiar proposal: He wanted to send someone to the Moon.
On October 4, 1957, just four years before John F. Kennedy’s landmark message to Congress, the Soviet Union had successfully launched its artificial satellite, “Sputnik 1,” turning cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into the first human being to go into space and igniting a certain unease in the US president regarding the “space race” the United States was competing in with Moscow. Just three weeks after Gagarin orbited Earth,NASA had launched astronaut Alan Shepard aboard the Freedom 7 capsule, making him the first American in space. His historic flight began from Cape Canaveral in Florida and lasted 15 minutes and 28 seconds before splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. But it was not enough. Kennedy felt great pressure to see his country “catch up and overtake” the Soviet Union in the race to space, and felt his urgency should be shared across the nation.
Kennedy proceeded to ask his Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, in his role as chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, to identify the probability of the US being able to take the next giant leap in space travel. Johnson consulted with James E. Webb and other NASA officials who told him there was no real chance of beating the Russians to launching a space station. Furthermore, as it was unknown if NASA could orbit a man around the Moon, the best option would be to attempt a landing, which meant more danger, higher costs, and more uncertainty. There was no real confidence in a favorable outcome for the mission.
[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”3,4,5,6″ ihc_mb_template=”3″ ]
The next step was to have NASA’s Space Task Group expand into the Manned Spacecraft Center, the lead center for NASA’s human spaceflight programs based in Houston, Texas. After they were finished, Kennedy took a two-day trip to Houston in September 1962 to explore the new facilities. There, accompanied by astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, he delivered an emotional speech intended to support the nation’s space effort, and thus the journey to the Moon began.
Kennedy referred to free spirit and endeavor at a historical moment of urgency, to the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them. And America had chosen to go to the Moon. He instilled his dream within the audience by inviting not only US citizens, but the world as a whole to accompany him in the task, citing his inaugural presidential address when he had declared to the world: “Together, let us explore the stars.”
The goal was reached seven years later, on July 20, 1969. After a number of difficulties, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (Eagle) landed on the Moon and stayed there for 21 hours, 36 minutes, and 21 seconds (the complete time from touchdown until liftoff from the Moon.) While astronaut Neil Armstrong created one of humanity’s most historic moments by setting foot on the surface, a legacy of smaller steps have continued to prosper over the past fifty years. Following the landing, Americans would tune into hours of TV coverage of the space program, as well as entertainment shows set in space, like The Jetsons, Star Trek, and Lost in Space; and hi-tech inventions, like computers and the Internet, would evolve into a constant in human activities, transforming our lives in the process.
Perceptions and attitudes shifted regarding not only space travel, but technology itself. They opened society to a vast portfolio of home technologies and inventions that still invite us to live and communicate freely without having to worry about the geographical borders that divide us.
On May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy stood before a special joint session of Congress with a highly ambitious and peculiar proposal he would not live to see fulfilled, he said that “it was not about one man going to the Moon… It would be an entire nation, for all must work to put him there.” And he was right. We were all there, we all chose to go to the Moon, amazed and in awe. If we look closely, we all learned from it, we all know about it; every day, we use a piece of technology that was inspired by that moment. The legacy of the space race is all around us, and it survives in the inspiration that can only be felt when a human breaks the ultimate frontier against the odds.
The inscription on a plaque left behind on the surface of the Moon after the astronauts departed reads: “Here, Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind.”
John F. Kennedy’s speech in Houston on September 1962 partially reads:
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”