Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 1969 - 2009


For the month of July, the Pillownaut blog will celebrate the Apollo program! In preparation for the 40th Anniversary of the first lunar landing, I’ll count up through each Apollo mission... and I thought it fitting that we begin with: the goal, the plan, the vision.

While John F. Kennedy did not found the space program, about three years into its inception, he delivered a critical speech that would galvanize the nation, pointing every set of American eyes toward the lunar surface. I find this speech so fascinating, given how many open questions were still such mysteries to scientists and fledgling astronauts. The financial amounts must have sounded insane in that era. And was there really a time when we didn’t have thousands of TV and weather and comm. satellites up there??

May 25, 1961
Washington DC

"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 development of the appropriate lunar space craft. 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 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 to accelerate development of the NOVA nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the end of the solar system itself.

Third, 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

Fourth, 75 million dollars -- of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau -- will help give us a satellite system for world-wide observation.

It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you 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.

... This is not merely a race. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men fully share."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Read and/or listen to the entire oration at the JFK Library.

Not long after, mathematician and composer Tom Lehrer would release his infamous Wernher Von Braun criticism song, which he introduced on his album by saying, "What was it that put America at the forefront? What was it that will make it possible to spend 20 billion dollars of your money to put some CLOWN on the MOON? Good old American know-how, that’s what."

Clearly, space exploration and the price tag that comes with it drew scathing disapproval then, as it often still does now – and I’ve always thought it sad that President Kennedy did not live to see the final victory, but I’m still betting Mr. Lehrer (and all the other naysayers) were glued to their television sets in 1969, watching Apollo 11 along with the rest of the world.