50 Years Later, Kennedy’s Moon Speech Being Remembered
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Fifty years ago, On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Moon Speech” at Rice University.
Kennedy had given a call earlier the year before, just a month after the Soviets had sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space, to be the first country to land man on the moon within a decade.
After his May 25, 1961 infamous Congressional address, the president took a trip to tour NASA facilities on September 12, 1962. During this trip, Kennedy gave a speech, offering a timeframe of an example of what man has accomplished in recent years if you put all of humanity on a 50 year timescale.
In his example, he outlined how fast technology had boomed recently, in a time when NASA was still short of having landed a man on the moon. He condensed 50,000 years of human history, in the span of about a half-century.
He said that in the first 40 years under this standard that man had just advanced to learn to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then, about 10 years ago, man had emerged from his caves to start building houses.
Kennedy said during the speech that under this standard, about five years ago, man had just started to learn to use a cart with wheels, and Christianity had started just two years ago.
He said the printing press would have come in 1962. Less than two months ago, under this standard, the steam engine provided a new source of power, Newton discovered gravity, “electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available.”
“Only last week did we develop penicillin, and television, and nuclear power,” Kennedy said during the speech. “And now, if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.”
“This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.”
“So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.”
During the speech, he said the exploration of space will go ahead, whether the U.S. decides to join it or not, and that it is “one of the great adventures of all time.”
Kennedy set the tone for the space race when he said that “no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”
“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.”
In 1962, Kennedy said 40 of the 45 satellites that had circled the Earth were made in the United States of America, and they were “far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.”
“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,” Kennedy said during the memorable “Moon Speech.”
He said when the British explorer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he replied “because it is there.”
“Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked,” Kennedy ended his speech.
The president was assassinated nearly a year later in Dallas, Texas, but modern space exploration is just an echo of the thumbprint Kennedy left during his brief time in office. If not for Kennedy’s passion for space, NASA may not be the dominate player in this still evolving industry that it is today, and the U.S. may not have its foothold that it has in exploring the great unknown.