President Kennedy was spurred by the Soviets advancements in the Space Race.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged NASA to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
JFK delivered his now-famous speech during a joint session of US Congress only a few months after his January 1961 inauguration. He was spurred into action after the Soviet national Yuri Gagarin became the first person ever to successfully orbit the Earth, an accomplishment that “suggested, once more, that the U.S.S.R. was well ahead in the Space Race,” says the Smithsonian.
On July 20, 1969, nearly six years after President Kennedy was assassinated, Neil Armstrong became the first person ever to set foot on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 project, effectively making good on President Kennedy’s challenge as well as claiming the lead in the international space race.
After explaining a breakdown of the massive funding that would be needed to put an American on the moon, President Kennedy concluded his speech by saying: “Let it be clear--and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make--let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62--an estimated 7 to 9 billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.”
“Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.”
“It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.”
“I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.”
“This decision demands 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. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.”
“New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further--unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”
Watch President Kennedy’s historic speech here: