May 25, 1961: President Kennedy Initiates Race to the Moon

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  Space News Business

May 25, 1961: President Kennedy Initiates Race to the Moon

By CLINTON PARKS
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 19 May 2008
01:59 pm ET





Washington –
“First, 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 the
Earth,
” U.S. President John F. Kennedy boldly proclaimed May 25, 1961, before a joint session of Congress. With those words, Kennedy established the final goal of
the space race between the world’s super powers
.

 

“Kennedy felt he had gotten off to a slow start in his administration,” said John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University here.

 

The recently elected
U.S. president, who had promised to restore the nation’s vigor, found himself besieged by international events, including
�the Soviet’s successful first manned spaceflight
�and the failed U.S.-led
Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba,
said Howard McCurdy, chair of the School of Public Affairs at American University here.

 

So Kennedy delivered a
�”second State of the Union Address


on national priorities, culminating with the call for a manned Moon mission, McCurdy said in a May 7 phone interview.

The statement was important
�for setting the goal to improve national pride, not actually for accomplishing it, McCurdy said. “That’s a pretty impressive statement, regardless of whether or not it happens,” he said.

 

Kennedy’s call to beat the Soviets to the Moon was a Cold War decision to impress developing nations not yet aligned with the United States or the Soviet Union, McCurdy said.

 

“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,” Kennedy said in his speech.

 

“It was to be a very visible demonstration of U.S. strength,” Logsdon said in a May 7 phone interview.

Two days after the first manned spaceflight by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin April 12, 1961, Kennedy met with his advisors and throughout the following weeks exchanged views on how to best the Soviets in space
, Logsdon said.

 

Kennedy wrote an April 20 memo to Vice President Lyndon Johnson asking if there was a “space program that promises dramatic results in which we could win?” according to the NASA History Web site.

 

The choice of a manned lunar mission was twofold, according to the Web site:
Even the Soviet’s more powerful rockets were not strong enough to reach the Moon thus nullifying their head-start advantage;
�and manned,
rather than unmanned, missions provided the worldwide cachet Kennedy was looking for.

 

Initially reluctant to
call
�for a manned Moon mission, Kennedy’s trepidation disappeared when the first U.S. manned spaceflight succeeded in early May, McCurdy said.

 

But even Kennedy was surprised when Congress passed his requested
half-billion-dollar
�NASA budget supplement to begin his Moon flight proposal “without much congressional lobbying,” McCurdy said.

 

President George W. Bush’s 2004
speech in which he announced the Vision for Space Exploration has been compared to Kennedy’s 1961 speech. “I think the comparison isn’t totally valid,” Logsdon said. Kennedy’s speech promised and delivered financial compensation while Bush’s announcement did not, he said.

 

McCurdy agreed
, noting that former
President George H.W. Bush also made a similar speech calling for
�manned missions back to the Moon and to Mars when he was in office.

 

The biggest difference between Kennedy’s speech and those from the Bushes, McCurdy said
, was that Kennedy’s call led to decisive action.

Comments: cparks@space.com

 

TWISH BRIEFS:

 

May 19

 

1971: The Soviet Union launches its Mars 2 spacecraft on a Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
�Mars 2 was the first of twin spacecraft, each compos
ed of an orbiter and a lander, to study the red planet
.

 

May 20

 

1926: U.S. President Calvin Coolidge signs the Air Commerce Act, the first federal legislation governing civil aeronautics.

 

1927: U.S. aviator Charles Lindbergh embarks on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight,
piloting

the Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field, N.Y., to Le Bourget Air Field, outside of Paris. The flight, which landed a day later
, was credited with bringing national attention to the potential of air flight.

 

1978: NASA’s
Pioneer 12, dubbed Venus Pioneer,
�launches on an Atlas-Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Venus Pioneer,
the first spacecraft to orbit that planet
,
was designed to study the venusian atmosphere.

 

1997: Thor 2, a Norwegian commercial communications satellite, launches on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

 

1999: Telesat Canada’s Nimiq 1 television broadcasting satellite launches on a Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

 

May 24

 

1962: Lofted by an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Malcolm Scott Carpenter
�orbits the Earth three times
aboard the Mercury Aurora 7. Carpenter’s flight was the second U.S. manned orbital flight.

1972: In Moscow, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin sign a cooperative agreement for the peaceful exploration of space. The agreement included developing a compatible docking system between the Apollo and the Soyuz for joint missions and rescue operations.

 

May 25

 

1953: A prototype model of North American Aviation’s F-100 Super Sabre,
dubbed the YF-100, flies for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Air Force plane became the first mass-produced supersonic U.S. military
fighter.

 

1973: The first Skylab crew – which included astronauts Charles Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin – launches to the U.S. space station from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on a Saturn 1B rocket in a modified Apollo command module.