NASA’s Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon on July 20, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely landed the Eagle lunar module. Just six hours later, on July 21, Commander Armstrong became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon, thus beating the Soviet Union. And it was 50 years ago this week, that US President John F Kennedy spurred NASA into setting its sights on Earth’s lunar companion. In a historic address to the US Congress on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy told the US space agency to land on the Moon before the end of the decade.
The US President, prompted to act by the Soviets successfully sending cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit, feared the Russians would win the Space Race.
President Kennedy said: “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.
“No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
President Kennedy would die before this goal was accomplished but his impassioned speech inspired an entire nation into action.
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JFK speech: President Kennedy outlined his desire to land on the Moon on amy 25, 1961
On November 22, 1963, the US President was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, by gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.
No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind
Six years later, NASA would accomplish his dream of sending astronauts to the Moon, while Richard Nixon held office in the White House.
The US space agency is now preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the monumental achievement by looking back at the legacy of the Gemini and Apollo space programmes, as well as the people whose work directly resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
Below is a transcript of President Kennedy’s speech to Congress concerning the Space Race.
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John F Kennedy’s address before Congress, May 25, 1961, from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum:
“Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks 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.
“Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides – time for a great new American enterprise – time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.
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“I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:
“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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon – if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.
“Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the Moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.
“Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.
“Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars–of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau–will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.
NASA’s Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969
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“Let it be clear – and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make – let it be clear 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 dollars in fiscal ’62 – an estimated seven to nine billion dollars 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.
“Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.
“It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.
“I believe we should go to the Moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.
“This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.
“New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.“