Kennedy and the Moon: Why Choose the Moon? Should we use Federal Funds for Exploration?
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On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a special address to Congress on Urgent National Needs and asked Congress to dedicate $7 to $9 billion dollars to the space program. The United States, he declared, needed “to take a clearly leading role in space achievement” and “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.” The mission was clear: the United States must go to the moon!
President Kennedy made this request one month after the Soviet Union had sent the first man into space. The Soviet success suggested that the United States was falling behind in the arms race and fueled new tensions between the two nations entwined in a bitter Cold War. Space was the latest theater for battling the Cold War and provided an opportunity for the United States to promote leadership and demonstrate the technological advances of a free and democratic society.
In order to do that, the United States needed to reach the moon before the Soviet Union. To achieve this end, Congress appropriated the funding for NASA’s Apollo lunar landing program. It took eight years of work and sacrifice, including the loss of three astronauts in a fire aboard Apollo 1, but President Kennedy’s goal was finally achieved on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.
From the very moment President Kennedy made his intentions clear, people began to debate the necessity of space exploration. The wonders of exploring the unknown and promise of potentially life-altering technological advances were tempered by thoughts that life would be most improved by focusing on immediate concerns on earth such as the struggle for civil rights, domestic anti-poverty programs, and, as time went on, increasing U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Read this historical overview, and highlight the point that the decision to go to the moon in 1961 was controversial and that Americans disagree on the subject
Examine President Kennedy’s 1961 decision to send a man to the moon by reading a letter written to the President by 13-year old Mary Lou Reitler and the response by Myer Feldman, the Deputy Special Counsel to the President, wrote back, addressing Ms. Reitler’s concerns and detailing the President’s views on the importance of space exploration.
Through their analysis of these letters and additional information about the costs and benefits related to the Apollo program, consider the merits of federally-funded space exploration and take a position in support of or in opposition to President Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon, and the current debate on funding for NASA.