JFK: We choose to go to the Moon

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In the fall of 1962, when the USA was far behind the Soviet Union in its space program, JFK held his rivetting “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, proclaiming space to be the new frontier. I’d like to highlight two excerpts, with the minutes in the video indicated so you can read along as you watch.

See min. 4:35-6:20 and min. 8:40-9:17, text experpts below

4:35-6:20: “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space to the moon and to the planets beyond. And we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We avow that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we and this nation are first, and therefore we intend to be first.”

8:40-9:17: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon… (interrupted by applause) 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.”

Trivia: Kennedy said that the year’s space budget stood at five billion four hundred million dollars, calling that “a staggering sum” (!) but saying that the American people were spending more than that on cigarettes and cigars (!!)

Full text



7 Responses

  1. It’s interesting what you say about the sums spent on cigarette buying.

    In all the debates about “did they really go or was a TV stunt” there is always someone who asks “why haven’t they been back?” and someone explains that the cost today is prohibitive.

    Is it? We still spend a lot on cigarettes, Formula One motor racing, selling a football player etc etc.

    Any idea what today’s budget would be?

  2. Anne,
    Thank you for sharing this resource. I think this would be great to integrate into a lesson for my adult students. JFK became quite popular in Germany for his famous I am a donut speech. Moreover, this speech sheds light on recent events with the US shuttle launch. I find it interesting and wonder what types of discussion will ensue by his statement that we will not have a hostile flag of conquest or have weapons of mass destruction.

  3. Welcome Chris!

    I wonder about that: It seems people used to smoke a lot more, just watch all those old films. All that spending money that went up in smoke. But money today is more smoke than fire, anyway. Talk about national budgets is hard to relate to when your government has just sunk a trillion bucks into bankers pockets. Joseph E. Stiglitz takes a far longer view of things like war debt, and I think you need to. I’ll see if he’s written anything new along these lines lately.

    It would have been a great event to stage. Did you watch the whole thing on TV? I did and loved it. But today’s Mars Mission leaves me cold.

    Thanks for coming by! Your blog is wonderful, I’ll be reading.

  4. Thanks Anne (for the blog comments).
    I was going to ask you if you had watched the event but from your profile i figured you were too young to remember.
    Do you remember?
    If you do what?
    I remember leaving early to deliver newspapers, a student job, and usually everyone was asleep but in the houses everyone was up watching (though i think Neil had already landed).
    An unearthly glow coming from all the sitting rooms.
    Two things make me laugh, the first that noone remembers the name of the third astronaut who had to stay up orbitting and the way they had to go into isolation on the return, even though they walked past a host of folk who were in no way protected if they did have something contageous, before getting into the protected bit!
    Maybe Mars leaves you cold because it is still so abstract?

  5. I was a kid of 7 or 8 and it fired up my imagination and that of my friends. For us the moon walk came at a good time, relatively late at night for a kid my age, so I was half asleep and just loved the two men in funny suits. We tried to emulate their movements in slow motion. It was great. My dad, born in 1920, had grown up with stories that the moon was made of green cheese.
    Mars? We have problems that rocket science can’t solve. ICT literacy… green living… just to name two!

  6. Dear Shelly,
    Exactly – and to think that WOMD became a buzzword over the bad old Bush years! Somebody said that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely… So even if I understand my German students’ Anti-Americanism (though it sometimes hurts), I can tell them that it’s clearly a better thing to have Top Dog nations be those that have a democratic tradition that can be revitalized the way ours was this past year. So I’ve got my Obama t-shirt on in real life, too 🙂

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