Think JFK

The most egregious goal ever set is that of President John F. Kennedy:

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 the Earth.

When Kennedy made this statement in May 1961, the United States had very little to go on. We had no micro electronics, no portable computers, no deep-space communications network, no giant rockets, no lunar navigation system, and practically no manned space flight experience. America had yet to put a man in orbit around Earth, let alone go to the moon.

Alan Shepard had flown a suborbital hop that lasted a grand total (from launch to splashdown) of 15 minutes. He spent only 15 seconds in space, near the apex of his 115-mile-high arc. Two months later, Gus Grissom flew a nearly identical suborbital flight with one significant difference. Upon splashdown, his capsule sank to the bottom of the ocean, and Gus nearly drowned.

John Kennedy dreamed a great dream and fired the imaginations of not only Americans but also people around the world. He gave us the big picture and aimed higher than anyone dared believe. Maybe he even BS'd a little. With his New Frontier Program, Kennedy created the desire to reach for space—"to sail this new ocean." He told his nation a story, and Americans embraced it. And when he died, Americans rallied to his dream and fulfilled it.

Does Kennedy deserve credit for getting humans to the moon? He didn't know anything about lunar rendezvous or von Braun's Nova rocket. Nevertheless, Michael H. Hart ranked John F. Kennedy number 81 in The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. Hart argued that Kennedy was "the person primarily responsible for instituting the Apollo program." Of course, Kennedy had the help of von Braun, a coterie of the world's most brilliant rocket scientists, brave astronauts, and about 400,000 other scientists, technicians, engineers, and skilled laborers.

And let's not forget the 100 million taxpayers who paid the bill. When Kennedy was speaking about the payload he accidentally said, "It will be the largest payroll—ah payload—in history." Quick to realize his mistake, he added, "And it will be the largest payroll." According to Hart, it was Kennedy who made the crucial breakthrough—a political one that required convincing the American public to spend $30 billion to get to the moon.

As long as there are human beings, the achievement of landing people on the moon will be remembered as one of the greatest in history. And it all started with the dream of one man: John F. Kennedy.



"One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat."

Woodrow Wilson

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