September 12, 2010

Space Speech and Other Space Stuff

On this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave what is arguably the most famous speech about space exploration ever given.

I well remember this sentence, spoken to Congress more than a year before (in May, 1961):

"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."

But in the 1962 speech at Rice University in Texas, JFK explained why a moon landing should be our goal. Here is part of that speech:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. 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, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And the U. S. succeeded with, not just one, but six moon landings.

More Space Stuff

On this day in 1959, the Soviet Union launched Luna 2, which was deliberately impacted onto the moon's surface with some experimental equipment and some stainless steel pennants.

On this day in 1966, U. S. launched Gemini 11, which made 44 orbits of Earth and which also gave astronauts practice with docking and separating.

On this day in 1992, U. S. launched the Endeavor space shuttle. The crew included the first female African American astronaut, Dr. Mae C. Jemison.

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