JFK Flew Us To The Moon | December 2, 2013 Issue - Vol. 91 Issue 48 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 91 Issue 48 | p. 3 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: December 2, 2013

JFK Flew Us To The Moon

Department: Editor's Page
Buzz Aldrin and U.S. flag on lunar soil.
Credit: NASA
Photo of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin saluting the U.S. flag on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin and U.S. flag on lunar soil.
Credit: NASA

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy brought back painful memories. On Nov. 22, 1963, the country lost not only a young, vibrant, and inspiring president, but also one with great confidence in science, who rallied a whole country on a quest to increase knowledge and conquer ignorance.

C&EN’s editor at the time, Richard L. Ken­yon, referred to the assassination as “A Death in the Family” (C&EN, Dec. 2, 1963, page 7). His tribute, in part, read: “An assassin’s bullet has taken a strong leader from the family of man. ... It was his respect for intellect that set President Kennedy apart. He showed a belief that only through intelligence do we reach wisdom and only through wisdom can we lift man to a higher condition. ... President Kennedy’s emphasis on the idea of science as an integral part of our culture was felt directly by our community. ... The promise of an appropriate place for science in shaping human affairs certainly has been strengthened by the influence of President Kennedy.”

Kennedy’s confidence in science was most memorably manifested by his challenge to the country to land a man on the moon. Humanity’s trek to the moon began when he declared to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on May 25, 1961, that the U.S. “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.”

It was a well-thought-out proposition: “We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar spacecraft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. 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 the 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.”

Kennedy acknowledged the enormity of the undertaking. He called it a “heavy burden,” one the U.S. must not embark upon “unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful.” It will require “a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization, and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts.”

Yet the clarion call stirred the country to action. On July 21, 1969, like millions of people all over the world, I stayed at home, in the Philippines, to watch on television the arrival of U.S. astronauts on the moon. The U.S. could not have achieved the feat without the inspiration from a determined, charismatic, and optimistic leader who believed in the power of science, as well as the skill and creativity of the U.S.’s scientific enterprise.


Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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Gary Horvath (December 6, 2013 11:39 AM)
Like every American, I remember the day when I found out JFK was assassinated. I also remember his inaugural address, the one that goes ...the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

I wish every high school student would spend a few minutes in class reading his speech and then realize that they are the new generation, like we did in the 1960s. They will have the responsibility and power to change the world and make important things happen.

Changes to the world will come from the young generation that has a long future before it. Changes made this year will have repercussions that the young generation has to live with the rest of their lives. If they sit back and let someone else act, then they have to live with that choice, too. As a boy scout leader said, think about your choice, then choose wisely, do not always choose the easy the way.

Good luck to the next generation. Go where no man has gone before and may the force be with you.

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