Apollo 11: Why JFK believed his bold moonshot could actually happen
By Mike Wall
July 18, 2019, 6:42:38 PM EDT
Apollo 11 was truly a giant leap, but it was no miracle.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special session of Congress that the United States planned to put people on the moon, and return them safely to Earth, before the end of the decade.
At the time, the nation had a mere 15 minutes of human-spaceflight experience — and that had been accrued just three weeks earlier, when NASA launched astronaut Alan Shepard on a brief jaunt to suborbital space. Still, JFK had confidence that the agency could deliver on his bold promise.
"I think he thought it could happen," said Roger Launius, who served as NASA's chief historian from 1990 to 2002 and wrote the recently published book "Apollo's Legacy" (Smithsonian Books, 2019).
JFK came to that conclusion after discussing the idea with NASA. In 1959, just a year after it was established, the space agency had identified the moon as the long-term target for its human-spaceflight program, according to space policy expert John Logsdon. By early 1961, quick-and-dirty analyses had convinced the agency that, while a crewed lunar mission would be tough and require significant innovation, there were no technological showstoppers that would prevent it from happening.
"That formed the basis of NASA telling Kennedy, 'If you commit the resources, Mr. President, we think we can do it," Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., told Space.com.
"So, the NASA leadership had a relatively high degree of confidence in the basic doability of a lunar-landing program, even though the way they thought it would happen at the time was not the way it happened," he added.
Getting the money, of course, was a big part of pulling the moonshot off. And JFK had a big advantage there: his vice president was Lyndon Johnson, a former majority leader of the U.S. Senate with a long history of pulling strings on Capitol Hill. (Robert Caro's famous biography of Johnson is called "Master of the Senate.")
More Weather News
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 2:33:57 PM EDT
Following several weeks of seasonable weather, the United Kingdom is set for another round of heat just in time for the upcoming summer bank holiday.
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 2:31:41 PM EDT
Many Americans are paying more to keep cool, but the peak of hurricane season has brought much worse in the recent past
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 12:52:22 PM EDT
Following slow-moving downpours along the upper Gulf coast this week, a new surge of tropical moisture will lead to a proliferation of downpours and the risk of flooding along the Gulf coast as well as the interior South this weekend.
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 2:36:23 PM EDT
At a glance, they may look like torpedoes, but they're actually robots and two were recently sent on patrol in the fourth-largest Great Lake to help combat a perennial problem there.
Tropical Storm Chantal forms, more areas to watch over Atlantic as the peak of hurricane season approaches
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 2:42:37 PM EDT
Following the formation of Chantal, there are several other signs of development in the Atlantic and some locations close to the United States bear watching.
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 9:49:54 AM EDT
Many parts of India will finally receive a reprieve from the recent flooding rainfall.
Weather News - August 21, 2019, 9:30:11 AM EDT
On the heels of four tropical cyclones that made landfall in eastern Asia so far this month, a new tropical threat has developed in the Western Pacific Ocean.