It wasn't his most famous speech, but President John F. Kennedy's address calling for the U.S. to get to the moon will certainly go down in history for its significance to the era and for the future of space travel.
NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the speech this week and honoring it with a special concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. During the speech, Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth within the decade.
As everyone knows, by 1969, Kennedy's challenge was met when the crew from the Apollo 11 mission, led by Neil Armstrong, became the first manned spacecraft to reach the moon. Many both in and out of NASA have said it helped the set the stage for the future of space travel, and cement the American committment to the project.
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 Earth, Kennedy said in the speech.
The road to the moon was not an easy path for the late President or anyone else involved. NASA recently revealed a conversation between Kennedy and NASA Administrator Joe Webb in 1963, where the President expressed his concerns that the moon landing would be seen as a stunt.
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, Kennedy said to Webb.
When Armstrong landed on the moon six years later, no American saw the move as a stunt. Also no one was thinking about the cost, which also concerned Kennedy. Instead, it is seen as the crowning moment in the space race, when the Americans and Soviets competed to be the first to get to the moon, with both nations reaching several firsts in the process.
The foundation Kennedy set in place allowed 12 men to walk on the moon by 1972. It set the stage for the space shuttle program, which sent hundreds of astronauts into orbit. It allowed for the creation of the International Space Station, which has been used by multiple nations as a resource for space exploration.
It also has laid the foundation for the future. NASA has recently unveiled an plan to bring the private sector into the business of launching astronauts. The agency also announced the next space module, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), will be built by Lockheed Martin. It will be able to carry four astronauts for 21-day missions, beyond low orbit Earth, and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.
Just last year, President Barack Obama, similar to Kennedy, challenged NASA to travel to the unknown. Obama said he wants to see a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s and also he would like to see astronauts to an asteroid by 2025.
The full text of JFK's address is here.