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At Rice, JFK Asks Americans For The Moon

In our series, “November 1963,” we listen back to America’s 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In Houston, on Sept. 12 1962, before a crowd of 35,000 people, the president made an impassioned speech outlining his goals for the nation’s space effort. “I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war,” Kennedy said.

President John F. Kennedy delivers an address to approximately 50,000 people at Rice University stadium in Houston. (AP)

President John F. Kennedy delivers an address to approximately 50,000 people at Rice University stadium in Houston. (AP)

BOSTON — In the football stadium at Rice University, Kennedy invited the dreamer in all Americans to imagine the nearly impossible.

“An untried mission to an unknown celestial body,” he said — and to do it before the end of the decade.

“’But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. 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.”

The quest to discover space was a Cold War competition, and the Soviets were ahead. But by decade’s end, the United States would land the first men on the moon. The president who inspired them would not live to see it.

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