Exactly a half-century ago today, President John F. Kennedy declared in a landmark speech America’s rationale for achieving the impossible: Going to the Moon.
And it is in this speech, which we commemmorate on the day after another anniversary marked by such tragedy, in a social climate today burdened with so much loss, strife, and economic depression, that we can draw inspiration and hope for the future.
Unlike our opponents at the time, Kennedy’s message was a message of freedom and peace in space. And to ensure it, he had to sell it to the American people.
Remarkably, with as relevant as his words continue to be, he could very well have been speaking to the America of today:
“… [T]his country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward…”
“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. … [S]pace 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 may never come again.”
“We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.”
“The growth of science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.”
“…[T]he space effort itself … has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel … and this region will share greatly in its growth.”
“William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
“Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.”
We might look upon the International Space Station today as the realization of Kennedy’s vow for peaceful, knowledge-centered pursuits in space. -And private companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace, and Planetary Resources are today challenging the hardships of space in the pursuit of space’s rewards.
As we look to heal – economically, socially, spiritually – we might look to space as the ideal environment that Kennedy championed, which holds true today: A frontier yet-unblemished by conflicts over belief, religion, combative nationalism, or economic strife; A place from which all explorers emerge with a renewed sense of kinship with our lonely world and the inhabitants of its many diverse and unique cultures; A place where we go to forge technological solutions and harvest knowledge from the very farthest extent of our reach so that all might benefit from it; A place where we have constantly demonstrated the best qualities of humankind.
Today, fifty years after Kennedy set us on a path that many would argue changed the course of history, whether considering the issue of jobs, rights, prejudice, education, or wars, I believe we need space much more than it needs us.
And Kennedy helped light the way.
09/12/62 – Semper Exploro