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Released Recordings: JFK Discusses Race to the Moon

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Uploaded on May 26, 2011

JFK Library Releases Recording of President Kennedy Discussing Race to the Moon


BOSTON -- On what marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's first challenge to the country to commit to sending a man to the moon before the end of the 1960s, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that it has declassified and made available for research a presidential recording of President Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb discussing the future of the US space program. The meeting was held in the White House on September 18, 1963 and reveals President Kennedy's private concerns over waning public support for space exploration.

In President Kennedy's address to Congress on May 25, 1961, he urged the country to make sending a man to the moon a national priority: 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.

Over two years later, President Kennedy is confronted with the financial burden that he predicted in 1961 and, in the conversation with Webb, expresses concern over what Congress and the public would see as the high cost of the space program. The President also discusses the challenges he foresees in trying to maintain the American public's interest in space exploration when, in fact, there would not be a moon landing during his presidency. He says, "I mean if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot of its glamour."

"President Kennedy was both a visionary and a realist," said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. "He understood the necessity of having both public and Congressional support if his vision of landing a man on the moon was to become a reality before the end of the 1960's."

The President and Webb go on to discuss in great detail the need to link defense or national security to the space program in order to garner the political support needed for the program's success. President Kennedy describes this point in time as "mid journey" for the country's space initiative. ...I think this can be an asset, this program. I think in time, it's like a lot of things, this is mid- journey and therefore everybody says 'what the hell are we making this trip for' but at the end of the thing they may be glad we made it.

Later in the conversation, President Kennedy comments that going to the moon must be more than just a "stunt". At one point the President said to Webb: Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon? But it seems to me...we've got to wrap around in this country, a military use for what we're doing and spending in space. If we don't, it does look like a stunt...

The President's uneasy tone during this meeting is in contrast to his public statements at the time, which were far more optimistic about the space program's future. A year earlier, in November 1962, the President and Webb had met at another White House meeting which has been described as adversarial. At that time, the roles were reversed: in 1962, the President was brimming with political confidence in the space program while Webb expressed concern that beating the Russians to the Moon should not be the space program's top priority. Now in September 1963, the President is faced with the challenge of maintaining public support when the rewards of space travel remain years away. This time it is Webb who reassures the President telling him, "it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation": President Kennedy: If I get re-elected, I'm not -- we're not -- go to the moon in my -- in our period are we?... Webb: No, no. We'll have worked to fly by though while you're President but it's going to take longer than that. This is a tough job, a real tough job. But I will tell you what will be accomplished while we're President and it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation. A basic need to use technology for total national power. That's going to come out of the space program more than any single thing. President Kennedy: What's that again? Webb: A basic ability in this nation to use science and very advanced technologies to increase national power -- our economy all the way through. President Kennedy: Do you think the lunar, the manned landing on the moon is a good idea? Webb: Yes sir, I do. President Kennedy: Why? Webb: Because...

http://www.jfklibrary.org/

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