opinion Today, May 25, marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's famous speech urging Americans to reach for the moon. With the U.S. space program in desperate need of new direction and genuine inspiration after years of neglect from Washington, we could use a 2011 equivalent of that oration.
One of Kennedy's finest speeches--and arguably one of the greatest in presidential history--it called on the U.S. space program to achieve what many thought to be impossible:
"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," Kennedy said in addressing a joint session of Congress and a national television audience. "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
Kennedy's call was more than a boastful assignment. It was a daring attempt to inspire national morale in the face of a Soviet Union seemingly winning the Cold War. The Russians had Sputnik--the world's first artificial satellite--in orbit, and the growing fear among many Americans was that superior Soviet space science meant greater military might and more lethal missile technology.
But the speech was also one of history's greatest examples of an American leader trying to inspire and rally citizens toward an incredible achievement. It's a sentiment lost not only on the 21st century space program, but on modern American politics as a whole. No one--from the White House to Capitol Hill to the campaign trail--challenges us to achieve at the very highest levels of scientific and inventive endeavor these days. … Read more