In 1961, President John F. Kennedy told a special session of Congress that America should go to the moon.
More than a year later, on 12 September 1962, Kennedy spoke to about 50,000 students, faculty and guests at Rice University in Houston, Texas. About 200,000 people lined the sidewalks and streets as he traveled from the airport to the stadium.
His message was for the nation, as well as Congress.
The United States and the Soviet Union were in the early days of a space race. The Soviets had achieved the first manned earth orbit on 12 April 1961.
The most well-known sentence from that speech:
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.
That was his vision, and in this speech he brought America along for the ride that he would not live to witness.
However, this may be the most important component of the vision he shared 60 years ago:
… this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Kennedy’s vision had detractors, including former President Eisenhower, as AP noted in its report. Why choose the moon as a goal?
Understanding his audience as well as the use of humor, Kennedy asked: “Why does Rice play Texas?”
He framed the budget (“$5,400 million a year”) in human terms: “somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year.” And on a per-person basis, the budget was 50+ cents a week. (That’s about $5 today, inflation adjusted.)
Kennedy’s description of the timeline of recorded human history is also exquisite:
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only 5 years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than 2 years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than 2 months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.
Watch the speech or read the transcript. If you’ve not done either before, I think you may be surprised.
Known for gnawing at complex questions like a terrier with a bone. Digital evangelist, writer, teacher. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill, wiredpen.com