50 Years Ago Today, We Chose to Go to the Moon

“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.”
– John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

On this day, 50 years ago, on a warm, sunny morning in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy delivered a now-famous speech to 40,000 spectators at Rice University, a speech that supported the United States’s commitment to step beyond the boundaries of our world, to go beyond low-Earth orbit and eventually, successfully (and indeed before the decade was out!) land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth.

It was an inspiring speech, both for the nation’s newly-developed space industry as well as for the entire country. (Would that we saw more overt dedication to space exploration from our leaders today!) This video from Rice University, itself celebrating its 100th anniversary in October, gives some insight into the events of that day in September of 1962, the small moments that led up to it and the large ones that followed.

From the Rice news release by Jade Boyd:

JFK’s 1962 moon speech still appeals 50 years later

Few moments in Rice’s history are as well known or oft remarked upon as the 1962 speech in which President John F. Kennedy boldly declared, “We choose to go to the moon!”

The speech marked a turning point for Rice, the city of Houston, the nation and the world. Globally, the space race played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and in the U.S. the space program shared headlines with the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights. In Houston, NASA would pump more than $1 billion into the local economy in the 1960s and help the city blossom into the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis.

In a tribute to Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong this week, Rice alum Paul Burka ’63, executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine, published the verbatim text of Kennedy’s speech in his blog. Burka, who was at Rice Stadium that day, said the speech “speaks to the way Americans viewed the future in those days. It is a great speech, one that encapsulates all of recorded history and seeks to set it in the history of our own time. Unlike today’s politicians, Kennedy spoke to our best impulses as a nation, not our worst.”

Kennedy spoke at the stadium at 10 a.m. Sept. 12. It was a warm, sunny day, and fall classes were not yet under way. Rice’s incoming freshmen were on campus for orientation, but many of the estimated 40,000 spectators were Houston school children, said Rice Centennial Historian Melissa Kean.

Kennedy told the audience that the United States intended to take the lead in spaceflight, both to ensure that the Soviet Union did not base strategic weapons in space and because space exploration “is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

The best-known line from the speech — “We choose to go to the moon!” — earned a thunderous ovation, in part because of Kennedy’s clever oratory. He played to the hometown crowd with the preceding line, “Why does Rice play Texas?” — a line that Kennedy jotted between the lines of the typed copy prepared by White House aide Ted Sorensen.

In its front-page coverage of the speech, the Rice Thresher made note of this line and others. The paper reported that the speech capped a two-day visit to Houston in which Kennedy toured facilities at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center), and the Thresher referred to the costly nature of the space program by citing the $5.4 billion annual NASA budget, a figure Kennedy also used in the speech.

The number impressed chemist Robert Curl ’54, one of many faculty members at the stadium.

“I came away in wonder that he was seriously proposing this,” said Curl, Rice’s Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences and professor emeritus of chemistry. “It seemed like an enormous amount of money to spend on an exploration program. It was an impressive amount of money back then, and if you adjust for inflation, the Apollo program cost more than the LHC today.”

Curl said Kennedy’s vision paid off for NASA and Houston when Apollo 11 landed on the moon less than eight years later.

Another Rice faculty member in attendance was Ron Sass, fellow in global climate change at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences.

Sass and Curl each said Kennedy’s speech seemed no more remarkable at the time than the 1960 speech by President Eisenhower at Autry Court. Today, Eisenhower’s speech is largely forgotten, and Kennedy’s is still frequently cited in the news.

Sass said part of the enduring appeal of Kennedy’s speech is the magnitude of what he proposed, something Sass said he has come to appreciate more with age.

“It didn’t seem outlandish to me at the time,” Sass said. “I was young, and I thought you could do just about anything.”

“If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”
– President John F. Kennedy

For a full transcript of JFK’s speech, click here.

Video and inset image: Rice University. Apollo 11 liftoff: NASA

Beam Me Up, Obama: Conspiracy Theory Claims President Teleported to Mars

Was the 44th President of the United States a time-traveling teenage Mars explorer?


Forget 2012 prophecies, Mayan calendars and lurking planets that go only by the name “X”… there’s an even kookier conspiracy theory in town, and it has to do with our nation’s fearless leader and his teenage teleportation adventures on Mars.

Yes, you read that right.

It seems that two government employees and self-professed time-travelers – er, “chrononauts” – Andrew D. Basiago and William Stillings have come forth and named President Obama as one of their own, along with the current head of DARPA, Regina Dugan.

(DARPA, if you don’t know, is the agency responsible for keeping U.S. defense up-t0-date with advancements in technology. Begun as a response to the Sputnik program in the late 50s, DARPA finds ways to integrate cutting-edge tech developments into stuff the military might want.)

Basiago, a Washington state lawyer, says that he was part of a time travel program developed by DARPA in the 1970s code-named Project Pegasus. He and Stillings claim that both Obama and Dugan were in their “Mars training class” at California’s College of the Siskiyous in 1980, part of a group of 10 young adults chosen to travel to Mars via a top-secret teleportation “jump room”.

They also claim that the then-19-year-old Barack Obama went by the name “Barry Soetero”.

But wait, there’s more.

"I'll beam ya down Mister President but I'll have to see your birth certificate first." (Photo via startrek.com)

The two former chrononauts also said that they encountered the future president at secret U.S. bases on Mars, which he is said to have visited twice between the years 1981 and 1983. On one instance Basiago said he even exchanged words with Ob – uh, Soetero – en route to the “jump room” while on Mars.

“We’re here,” Basiago claims the young president-to-be said to him.

And the supposed reason for the secret teen task force’s Red Planet expedition? To “acclimate Martian humanoids and animals to their presence,” according to Basiago.

You know, to make good with the locals so there’d be no trouble when setting up camp.

White House officials have denied all allegations of the President’s Martian travels, or the existence of a Mars training class. But, of course, they would. 

And you thought the whole birther thing was a bit extreme? Wake up sheeple, this is some real crazy here. Chrononaut style.

Read more on Wired.com’s “Danger Room”.


Top image assembled by J. Major from NASA and Hubble images and a campaign photo of President Obama. Star Trek image from www.startrek.com. © 2010 CBS Studios Inc., All Rights Reserved.