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JFK pushed lunar landing but was “not that interested in space.”

from the historical-ironies dept.
(No, this isnít about nanotech. Itís an item in an occasional series of off-topic news and information for Fridays.)

United Press International reports that, according to White House tapes released by the Kennedy Library archives, President John F. Kennedy clashed with NASA's top officials over his desire to gain political points by landing a man on the moon before the Soviet Union ("Tapes: JFK pushed for lunar landing", 23 August 2001). According to UPIís transcription, Kennedy made the following comments during a White House meeting over spending for the space program on Nov. 21, 1962 (about a month after the Cuban Missile Crisis):

"This is important for political reasons, international political reasons, and this is, whether we like it or not, in a sense, a race," Kennedy said. "Everything that we do ought to really be tied to getting onto the moon ahead of the Russians."
"I do think we ought to get it really clear that the policy ought to be that this is the top priority program of the agency and one … of the top priorities of the United States government," Kennedy said. "Otherwise, we shouldn't be spending this kind of money because I'm not that interested in space."

On the same day the Kennedy tapes were released, UPI also reported that a Russian Progress M-45 cargo ship docked safely with the International Space Station, the day after the U.S. space shuttle Discovery departed for landing, carrying the crew of three who had staffed the station for over five months. That crew was commanded by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev and included American astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms. They were launched into orbit on 8 March 2001 as the ISS's second permanent crew and logged almost 70 million miles during 5 ½ months aboard the orbital complex. The Progress cargo craft, which lifted off Tuesday from Kazkahstan's Baikonur cosmodrome, was carrying supplies to the current ISS crew that includes Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin and their commander, U.S. astronaut Frank Calbertson.

The shuttle Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center on 22 August 2001.

3 Responses to “JFK pushed lunar landing but was “not that interested in space.””

  1. GReynolds Says:

    Kennedy & Space

    This matches what I heard some years ago from Jerome Wiesner, who chaired a committee on space for Kennedy (and later was President of MIT). He told me that it was all political for Kennedy, and that when people made points about science he brushed them off. Kinda sad, really: Kennedy sounded so eloquent — though if you parse his words they don't really have that much to do with human expansion into the cosmos.

  2. Mr_Farlops Says:

    Kennedy's statements are not surprising.

    It was the Cold War. The US had to reassure allies that the Soviets were not technologically, and therefore militarily, superior. It was never about science, curiosity, exploration or anything vague like that.

    We just didn't want the Soviets to build missle launchers on the moon. The Lunakhod robots and the LEMs can be considered proof of concept.

  3. MarkGubrud Says:

    Oliver Stone's hero

    Kennedy, who campaigned against Nixon on the basis of an imaginary "missile gap," was a militant anticommunist whose primary mission as president was to go on the offensive in the Cold War. Hence the Bay of Pigs and Operation Mongoose, the Diem assasination and escalation in Vietnam, the space race, the anti-poverty programs, Iranian land reform and the Alliance for Progress, about which Kennedy said "those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." The whole point of the "liberal" initiatives was to undercut the appeal of communism. Kennedy would use moderate reforms and space sideshows to fight the Commies, but send assassins after Castro and build thousands of nuclear missiles at the same time. In the Oct 1962 crisis, Kennedy was prepared to risk nuclear holocaust rather than let it appear he had been the first to "blink." If you read the Excomm transcripts, you see that the Kennedy brothers and all of their advisers, with the exception of Republican former USSR Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson (who probably saved civilization), were wrestling with their fears of imminent immolation yet trying to bolster themselves to justify a belligerent response.

    I've heard it said that, had JFK survived, the moon landings would never have taken place, because once the real costs of the Apollo program were understood, Kennedy began to balk. Lyndon Johnson inherited the moon race as Kennedy's "legacy," and used it to shore up his political position. While just as murderously anticommunist, Johnson was much more willing to push for progressive legislation to benefit the American people ("The Great Society") at the cost of increased government spending. Johnson was a paternalist; Kennedy, by contrast, was a warrior for the interests of the rich.

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