Quote of the moment: John F. Kennedy, “We choose to go to the Moon”


John F. Kennedy at Rice University, Houston, Texas, Sept 12, 1962 - photo from NASA

John F. Kennedy at Rice University, Houston, Texas, Sept 12, 1962 – photo from NASA

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

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.

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas

Why this speech in Houston?  There’s more here than just a speech in a football stadium.  Kennedy was working to save the space initiative, and to make America more secure.

In this quest, Kennedy lays out the reasons we need strong science research programs funded by our federal government, and strong science educational achievement in all of our schools.

From the White House History Association:

Race to the Moon

President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) awoke on April 12, 1961, to the news that the Soviet Union had won the race to put a man into space. Kennedy immediately met with Vice President Lyndon Johnson in the White House to discuss the embarrassment of the Soviets beating America again. “Can we put a man on the moon before them?” Kennedy asked. A few weeks later, Kennedy challenged the nation to “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

Kennedy challenged Congress and the imaginations of all Americans a few weeks later, when on May 25, in a special Joint Session of Congress, he proposed a Moon exploration program.  In a speech outlining defense and foreign policy needs to make the U.S. secure and safe against threats from Soviet communism, or any other nation or faction, Kennedy spoke openly about the space race that had been waged since October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union became the first nation on Earth to orbit an artificial satellite, Sputnik.

Kennedy told Congress in that part of the speech:

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.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of leadtime, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. 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. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

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.

(Here’s a link to an audio excerpt of that speech, from the Kennedy Library.)

The race was on.  The Soviet Union’s massive rocket engines gave them a decided advantage.  Kennedy’s challenge captured the imagination of Americans and America.  Necessary money flowed from Congress, but not in a completely free flow.  Some opposed the nation’s efforts in space exploration because they thought spending on space exploration detracted from the nation’s defense efforts.  Kennedy continued to stress the connection between space exploration and defense.  He was backed by successes — Navy Commander Alan Shepard, Jr., had successfully launched into space and returned safely; and on February 20, 1962, pilot Marine Capt. John Glenn orbited the Earth three times, catching the U.S. up almost to where the Soviet Union was in manned space exploration.

Kennedy understood that constant attention, constant selling of the space program would be necessary.  So in September 1962 he found himself in Houston, the newly-designated home of the manned space program, and he took the opportunity to cast the American goals in the space race as peaceful, good for all mankind, and definitely worth the massive costs.

Notice in how he casts putting a human on the Moon in league with other great achievements of civilization.  Kennedy was truly shooting for the stars.

Notice also how he relates space exploration to practical applications then in existence, such as communication, navigation of ships at sea, and weather forecasting.  This was years before geosynchronus satellites were used for everyday telephone conversations, years before quantum theory was harnessed for Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and digital personal, handheld telephones, and before the newly-invented printed circuits were miniaturized to make computer calculating a possibility in space — the Moon landing was done with slide rules and hand calculations.

Just over 14 months later Kennedy would die in Texas, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle Lunar Module on the Moon, at the Sea of Tranquility.  A few hours later, on July 21, they stepped out on the Moon.  From Kennedy’s speech to Congress, the task had taken 8 years, one month and 26 days.

More resources:

Tip of the old scrub brush for inspiration to “Anything You Ever Wanted to Know” at KERA-FM 90.1 in Dallas, on July 24, 2009.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, with Neil Armstrong, the U.S. flag, and the Eagle Lunar Module reflected in his helmet visor, July 21, 1969 - NASA photo via Wikimedia

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, with Neil Armstrong, the U.S. flag, and the Eagle Lunar Module reflected in his helmet visor, July 21, 1969 – NASA photo via Wikimedia

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27 Responses to Quote of the moment: John F. Kennedy, “We choose to go to the Moon”

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Dear Grumpy Elder,

    “I see the storm coming, and I seen His hand in it.”

    Lincoln, not Kennedy. See Kennedy, here:
    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=74225

    Thanks for the link — wouldn’t have known about your site otherwise.

    Like this

  2. […] “Kennedy was working to save the space initiative, and to make America more secure.  In this quest, Kennedy lays out the reasons we need strong science research programs funded by our federal government, and strong science educational achievement in all of our schools.” - read more here […]

    Like this

  3. […] July 24, 1969: Apollo 11 returned to the Earth, and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong — Aldrin and Armstrong having landed on the Moon.  In our celebrations of Apollo 11, and in our remembrances of President Kennedy, we may forget, though young kids rarely miss it, that Kennedy didn’t just say ‘Let’s put a guy on the Moon by 1970.’  Getting back safely was a key part of the challenge. […]

    Like this

  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Thank you, Mr. Reichert!

    Like this

  5. here is a link to the Rice University speech from the JFK Library and Museum

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  6. Teddy Amry says:

    Human perception of something we call it moon and the mental attitude about the outer space definitely changed by this history of man landed n moon. To those everyone who has given their contribution that made this happen, thank you. This is not only belong to US history but a whole mankind of the world. RIP Neil Armstrong.

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  7. I like the quote very much “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..” I like it because the will to conquer, not to be such a loser.

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  8. [...]  “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, bu… [...]

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  9. [...] can picture his youthful good looks, recollect his forward looking vision for America, inclusive of exploring outer space and stewardship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, even though I am largely not a fan of his political [...]

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  10. [...] a grandes personajes del siglo XX cayendo en estos vicios. Me cuesta imaginarme a JFK que cuando dijo: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade” hubiera [...]

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  11. [...]  John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Trip” Vision: 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. [...]

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  12. [...] goals that, on the surface, are so outrageous they seem unattainable. A classic example would be President Kennedy’s “we choose to go to the moon in this decade” quote, but there are plenty of goals here on Earth that seem equally audacious. One of those could very [...]

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  13. [...]  John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Trip” Vision: 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. [...]

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  14. Machinima says:

    I think this is one of JFK’s speeches that defined his legacy.

    Watch this short video for the punchline to an excerpt of this great speech:

    http://machinema.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/jfk-we-choose-to-go-to-the-moon/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZhjsO9edQk

    Like this

  15. Black Flag® says:

    He lied.

    “We” did not chose.

    He did.

    And he was egotistical, conceited, and ignorant enough to think that what he thought was important was important enough to steal money from others to achieve it.

    Nick, sorry, none of those things “came from the moon landing”.

    The fax machine was invented in the late 1800′s.
    According to you, we should have used government violence to push upon the whole world because -now- you think it is a good idea.

    Fiber optic communication was invented by Bell.
    According to you, we should have used government violence to push upon the whole world because -now- you think it is a good idea.

    But no one used it or needed it until the mid 20th century – simply because back then no one needed “documents nearly instantly” or “20,000 phone calls per second”

    The “things” from the all the wasted money getting to the moon would be “gotten” without wasting the money – when people decided to need them.

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  16. [...] “Quote of the moment:  John F. Kennedy, ‘We choose to go to the Moon’” [...]

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  17. Nick K says:

    Not obviously on topic…except it sort of actually is. It wasn’t a private industry that put us on the moon first. It wasn’t the Koch brothers or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Ron Paul who put forth the idea. Yes, private industry was involved….but with the government being the impetus. And look how much came as a result: Cell phones, gps, microelectronics and quite a lot of other things.

    So in that view, I’m going to quote an article from dailykos.com.

    A. Lange & Söhne is a German watchmaker just of outside Dresden in Saxony. But Lange isn’t any ordinary watchmaker of the Swiss sort. Correction: in some respects it is. I’m a lover of fine watches and have loved clockwork since I was a boy. Lange timepieces are some of the finest and most valuable in the world. The Lange name, like its Swiss competitors, is synonymous with extraordinary engineering and high quality.

    I toured the factory during my trip to Germany and it was nothing short of extraordinary. I’d imagined, before visiting the Lange factory, that it would be like in the movies: the old men huddled over their magnifying glasses with their instruments in some dusty room full of old clocks. But the place I saw was much more like some sort of advanced NASA laboratory. The factory hummed, while all sorts of extremely focused looking engineers when about their work. There was a room called the Decorating Room where each component of a Lange watch is sculpted by a master artist, even the various tiny cogs and spring machinery that will never be seen unless the watch is dismantled. After a watch is built by hand that way, it is tested and then taken apart, then re-assembled and tested again. The tour guide who walked us through the factory beamed with pride at almost every stop. The firm touts, frequently, their pride in their product, their Saxon heritage, and the Lange place in the pantheon of German engineering.

    In the world of concert pianos, the name Steinway & Sons is well-known. The factory in Queens is one most people think of when they think hand-crafted quality pianos. But for almost as long as Steinway pianos have been produced in New York City, there has also been a Steinway factory in Hamburg, Germany. Concert pianists often take preference between the two, some preferring the “New York Steinway” and others the “Hamburg Steinway.” While the Steinway firm insists there is little more than aesthetic differences between the two, in both price and reputation the Hamburg Steinway has the edge. Used Hamburg Steinway concert grand pianos sold in the United States frequently sell for substantially more than brand new New York Steinways.

    After my visit the Hamburg factory, it is easy to understand why. The careful approach to craftsmanship, attention to detail, and beaming pride with which the workers went about their tasks was nothing short of impressive. Like the Lange watches, each Hamburg Steinway concert grand is a unique hand-made instrument. Each individual piano bears its own distinctive sound and feel. Needless to say, these pianos are premium goods at premium prices, but buyers swear they are worth every penny. I’ve been to the basement in Steinway Hall on 57th Street and to the factory selection room in Queens. While every New York Steinway is very impressive, the Hamburg Steinways I heard were simply amazing.

    Which brings me to the point of this story. There is a simple reason why Germany manufactures so many high-end goods, from the best watches to the finest grand pianos, all the way up to Porsches and highly complicated precision instruments: it is the policy of the German government.

    Well, it isn’t exactly a policy. It is more of a framework. Germany’s method of creating wealth is straightforward: 1. Produce a highly educated workforce. 2. Have that workforce create and make advanced, precision things for high wages. 3. Export the things at a high price and then re-invest that money back into item 1. This is why Germany is the Number 2 exporter in the world despite having only 27 percent of America’s population and only 6 percent of Number 2 exporter China. The Germans realize they cannot beat either China or India based on cost. Advanced nations can’t compete on cost. America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations. Germany decided to avoid going down the same path of downward spiral among its middle class that we are in. Instead, they invest in their people and in research.

    This stands in stark contrast to the America’s current policy, which can basically be summed up as: 1. Let the market work by having government not interfere. 2. If the market doesn’t work, give the market a bunch of public debt money. In short, America has no industrial policy or framework for future growth. Worse, many American officials don’t want one. Whenever you bring up an American industrial policy, the first thing Republicans trot out is the old “don’t pick winners and losers” shtick. The problem is that no policy at all does pick winners and losers. The winners will be financial speculators and others who can manipulate information faster than everyone else.

    If America is going to grow and prosper, it has to make, build and export things around the world in far greater quantity than we do today. The information, finance and consumer economy, as we have seen, do not produce tangible wealth for the middle class. The first step toward making things again is having a government that makes heavy industry a priority over banking

    And I have a challenge for Lower and Morgan and any other right wing person here. Come up with a reasonable intelligent argument for how “keeping government out of the free market” and just cutting taxes on the rich, the powerful and the businesses will accomplish what Germany has accomplished. How will it create an United States in which the “rising tide lifts all boats” instead of just a chosen few.

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  18. There was a great op-ed piece in the NYT last week by Tom Wolfe that argued good “words” was one of the key factors in sustaining the space program. Kennedy’s were some of the best…

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  19. [...] Birthers: “We choose to wallow in the gutter” It’s a stark contrast to the matter-of-fact, good-for-America views of John Kennedy. [...]

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  20. Donna B. says:

    1969. Man walks on the moon and I get my driver’s license. A banner year!

    The space race was a huge part of my childhood and young adulthood. I think the era ended with Challenger. Or that was, at least, the beginning of the end.

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  21. Ed Darrell says:

    I found a way to add those buttons, but it’s a real pain. Trial basis . . .

    Like this

  22. Mary A. says:

    I like the “please share” option, so I did! Once again, nothing intellectual to add or dispute, just want to let you know you are read and appreciated.

    Like this

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