Words that Set America on a Course to the Moon

July 2nd, 2019

President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University on 12 September 1962

By Mary Alys Cherry

We choose to go to the Moon — famous words that set America on a course to the Moon and words that will live in the hearts of Houstonians forever.

President John F. Kennedy, recognizing that the Russians had a head start on us in space, suggested in a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961 that we should make new efforts of our own to go to the Moon.

“For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

“Let it be clear,” he continued, “that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: $531 million in fiscal ‘62–an estimated $7 to 9 billion additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.” It was one of two speeches JFK made that helped send us to the Moon.

RICE SPEECH
Then on Sept. 12, 1962, Kennedy came down to Houston, where he reiterated his call to go to the Moon and delivered his famous “Moon speech” at Rice University.
“We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”

With the speech Kennedy hoped to persuade the American people to support the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

NEW FRONTIER
In his speech, the president characterized space as a new frontier, invoking the pioneer spirit that dominated American folklore. He infused the speech with a sense of urgency and destiny, and emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them.

While there was grumbling about the cost and value of the Moon-landing effort. Kennedy’s goal was realized in July 1969, with the successful Apollo 11 mission.

“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 which we intend to win, and the others, too. “

NASA History Overview

November 1st, 2018

A new era in space flight began on April 12, 1981, when Space Shuttle Columbia, or STS-1, soared into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is responsible for unique scientific and technological achievements in human spaceflight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications that have had widespread impacts on our nation and the world.

Forged in response to early Soviet space achievements, NASA was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and other government organizations, as the locus of U.S. civil aerospace research and development.

When NASA opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958, it accelerated the work already started on human and robotic spaceflight. NASA’s first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. This was followed by Project Gemini, which used spacecraft built for two astronauts to perfect the capabilities needed for the national objective of a human trip to the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

Project Apollo achieved that objective in July 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission and expanded on it with five more successful lunar landing missions through 1972. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Projects of the mid-1970s, NASA’s human spaceflight efforts again resumed in 1981 with the Space Shuttle program that continued for 30 years. The shuttle was not only a breakthrough technology, but was essential to our next major step in space, the construction of the International Space Station.

Over the last 60 years NASA has continued to push the boundaries with cutting edge aeronautics research that has dramatically changed the way we build and fly airplanes. NASA has also completed the reconnaissance of our solar system, with intense investigation of all the planets. Using orbital spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has also dramatically changed our understanding of the universe around us, as well as our own planet.

NASA’s early work on launch vehicles, communication satellites, and weather satellites has fundamentally changed daily life and created whole new industries. As a catalyst for international cooperation, NASA has also changed how and why humanity conducts space exploration. Now, NASA is preparing to take humankind farther than ever before, as it helps to foster a robust commercial space economy near Earth, and pioneers further human and robotic exploration as we venture into deep space.

The NASA History Office Program publishes a quarterly newsletter, as well as an array of books (print and digital), hosts social media, provides fellowships, and runs the Historical Reference Collection (our version of an archive) to assist the public in finding more information on aeronautical and space history. In addition, the staff produces the Aeronautics and Space Report of the President.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 directs NASA to produce an annual report that includes a “comprehensive description of the programmed activities and the accomplishments of all agencies of the United States in the field of aeronautics and space activities” during the preceding year.