Earlier today (September 12) NASA commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University where he articulated why the U.S. was going into space. A quote that might ring some bells.
“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.”
The Atlantic‘s Technology section noted the anniversary by reminding us that what now seems like a universally accepted thing – the Apollo program – was not always thus.
Space historian Roger Launius has tracked public opinion during the polling to show that significant percentages of the public were not fans of Apollo, even years after the 1969 moon landing. And The Atlantic‘s Madrigal outlines two major threads of opposition that really explain the point of view that other social priorities should be more important.
Another space example of paving over the science losers comes from how we opted not to go to the moon. As detailed in some of my rare printed work, one option for traveling to the moon involved creating an orbital facility where the trans-lunar vehicle would be assembled and launched from orbit. In essence, a rudimentary space station decades before Mir and the International Space Station.
Yes, I have noted two technological stories here as a means of pushing back against the determinism that comes with time. But there are stories of science that provide the same kind of obscured look back that our perception of Apollo does. Perhaps part of the legacy of today’s speech is that President Kennedy still had to make his case for space, a year after the nation was committed to go to the moon and return a man safely. Going to the moon was hard, and so was getting public support.