Planning and preparations
On 25 May 1961 President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on the theme of Urgent National Needs. In view of space achievements by the Soviets, he proclaimed, “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.” Having outlined the political background, he said, “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.” He had chosen this goal because it would be technically difficult. By literally ’shooting for the Moon’, Kennedy was betting that America would not only catch up with the Soviet Union in space, but forge ahead. If space was the arena of superpower politics, then he was challenging his rival, Nikita Khrushchev, for world leadership. He imposed the deadline to ensure that reaching the Moon was perceived as a race. And he also recognised the awesome scale of the task. “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.” In order to indicate that it was a matter of national honour, Kennedy said, “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.” And to emphasise what was at stake, he warned, “If we are to go only halfway, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.” For Kennedy the Moon was a symbol and, given what he wished to do, it was an excellent symbol. He had the impression that the applause in Congress was “something less than enthusiastic”, but there was little opposition in the House and the debate in the Senate ran for less than an hour and NASA’s budget was doubled without a formal vote being taken.