On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, in an address to a Joint Session of Congress, asked for appropriations for a manned space program.
“These are extraordinary times and we face an extraordinary challenge.”
“Our strengths, as well as our convictions, have imposed on this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause.”
“The dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks [when Russia put the first man, Yuri Gagarin, in space] should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take.”
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
Click here for a YouTube video of Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 speech to the Joint Session of Congress.
Congress did commit the funds Kennedy asked for.
The National Air and Space Agency’s (NASA) Apollo program to accomplish it was launched.
NASA had been launched under President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958 with Eisenhower’s signature approving the National Aeronautics and Space Act, after Russia launched Sputnik into space on October 4, 1957.
NASA opened its doors on October 1, 1958.
It is tempting to say that the reason the NASA Command Center was located in Houston is because then-Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson helped shepherd the Space act through Congress and the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, was also from Texas.
While their support surely helped, there were other reasons the site outside Houston was picked.
It was in a moderate weather zone, near water, had qualified personnel nearby, a good, all-weather airport and was near an Army depot, though the agency was going to be civilian, not military.
It was accessible to a major telecommuications network and close to two universities.
One of them, Rice University, donated the land for the site.
On Septemer 12, 1962, Kennedy came to Rice University to help launch Apollo’s manned space flight program.
“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.”
“Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation’s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.”
He challenged the nation to get to the moon before Russia so as to ensure a peaceful space instead of an armed moon.
“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…”
He acknowledged that we were playing catch-up to Russia’s lead, but also held out the vision of scientific and manufacturing knowledge and jobs such a program represented.
“To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight.”
“But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.”
“The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.”
“Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.”
Then, he described the magnitude of the project.
“But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”
To read a full transcript of the speech, click on the title, John Kennedy’s Rice Stadium Moon Speech.
Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon on July 20, 1969.
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