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President John F. Kennedy Challenges the Nation

NASA Images of President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy's Challenge to the Nation

...On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human into space. NASA followed up by rushing Alan Shepard into his five-minute ride in space. The popular media went wild over America’s achievement and its new astronaut hero. Building on the excitement, Kennedy’s famous message to Congress on May 25, 1961, set the goal “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On September 12, 1962, a presidential address at Rice University, given during a trip to tour NASA facilities, elaborated the rationale for his lunar objective. Space was a “new frontier,” a “new sea” in the next great age of discovery. The conquest of space, a historic and strategic imperative, would challenge Americans to show their greatness and would signal national prestige and global leadership. Invoking the competition of the space race, the speech nevertheless transcended the Cold War by emphasizing a romantic and visionary national quest. It stressed how practical and technological greatness could mix with the noblest goals of human aspiration. It provided a chronology of urgency: “We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.”

From "Far Out: The Space Race in American Culture" by Emily S. Rosenberg in "Remembering the Space Age", Stephen J. Dick, ed., NASA publication SP-2008-4703, p. 163.

Related Links

> Excerpt from President John F. Kennedy's Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25, 1961.
In this famous speech, Kennedy proposed putting a human on the Moon by the end of the decade.

> President John F. Kennedy's Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort, September 12, 1962.
In this well-known speech, Kennedy stated that we explore space not because it is easy but because it is difficult.

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Page Last Updated: November 22nd, 2013
Page Editor: Sarah Loff