It is important to realize that Kennedy’s decision to go to the Moon was not made once and for all time in April and May 1961. By mid-1961, Kennedy began questioning the costs associated with Apollo, and several times in 1962 and again, more intensely, in 1963 there were in-depth reviews of Apollo’s cost and schedule, asking each time whether the benefits of going ahead as planned justified the very high costs involved. In 1963, Kennedy saw an opportunity to cooperate with the Soviet Union in going to the Moon as a means of reducing U. S. costs while achieving other important strategic objectives; if the Soviet Union had responded positively, it certainly would have changed the character of Project Apollo.
There was thus not a single decision to aim at a lunar landing, but rather a series of decisions, each time with alternative paths being considered and each time with the resulting choice being to proceed with the program to land Americans on the Moon “before this decade is out,” either as a unilateral undertaking or cooperatively. Only at the very end of the Kennedy administration was serious consideration given to slipping the end of the decade schedule, and even then the decision made was to reject such slippage and to stay with the planned schedule.
Kennedy’s consistently reiterated commitment to Apollo can be best understood in terms of how he carried out his presidency overall. Theodore Sorensen, as he prepared Columbia University lectures which were later published as his book Decision-Making in the White House, asked national security adviser McGeorge Bundy for suggestions on what to say. Bundy replied that “the modes of Presidential decision are enormously varied,” that “decisions are made through the ceaseless process by which, if an administration is lively, recommendations and proposals are ground forward,” and that in a sense “the entire presidential existence is. . . a process of decision.” Viewing JFK’s commitment to Apollo in these terms is particularly useful. Bundy suggested that “the president’s larger policies: an open door to Moscow, an open door to all underdog Americans, an open door to intelligence and hope, honor to bravery, equal sense of past and future, gallantry to beauty, and pride in politics” were “colors of a permanent palette” and were reflected “in the small as well as the large decisions, drawn from in a hundred ways.”9 Policies in the space arena were indeed a reflection of Kennedy’s broader objectives as president. As Sorensen suggests, reflecting the multiple facets of Kennedy’s space strategy: 
addition, our relations with the Soviets, following the Cuban missile crisis and the test ban treaty, were much improved—so the President felt that, without harming any of those three goals, we now were in a position to ask the Soviets to join us and make it efficient and economical for both countries.
President Kennedy himself explained the subtlety of his space strategy as he wrote Congressman Albert Thomas in the aftermath of his September 20, 1963, proposal at the United Nations that the journey to the Moon become a cooperative undertaking: “This great national effort and this steadily stated readiness to cooperate with others are not in conflict. They are mutually supporting elements of a single policy.” Kennedy added: “If cooperation is possible, we mean to cooperate, and we shall do so from a position made strong and solid by our national effort in space. If cooperation is not possible—and as realists we must plan for this contingency too—then the same strong national effort will serve all free men’s interest in space, and protect us also against possible hazards to our national security.”
One analyst of the Kennedy presidency correctly comments that “there would have been no race to the moon without the Cold War; the space program became as much a part of that conflict as Cuba, Berlin, and Laos.”10 Whatever President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and NASA administrator Webb said about the purposes of Project Apollo in their public rhetoric, from the time that Kennedy asked Johnson to identify “a space program that promises dramatic results in which we could win,” it was well understood within the government that the primary objective of Apollo was winning a Cold War-inspired competition to be first to the Moon. To those more focused on the totality of the U. S. space program than was John Kennedy, it was also clear from 1961 on that a program aimed at sending Americans to the Moon could serve as a focal point for the development of space capabilities of strategic value for the United States. By 1963, President Kennedy had seemingly also embraced that view. The November 1963 “Special Space Report” recommending proceeding with Apollo on its then-planned schedule clearly stated that “principal purposes” of the lunar landing program were (1) “demonstrating an important space achievement ahead of the USSR”; (2) “serving as a focus for technological developments necessary for other space objectives and having potential significance for national defense”; and (3) “acquiring useful scientific and other data to the extent feasible.” These were the reasons John F. Kennedy decided in 1961 to go to the Moon, and they remained the objectives of Apollo at the time of his death.
This stability in the actual reasons for the lunar race served as the political foundation for White House decisions to allocate the massive resources required for Apollo’s success, even after Kennedy’s assassination. It is perhaps his willingness to stay the course in the face of increasing criticisms of the path in space that he had chosen that most indicates the quality and strength of John F. Kennedy’s original decision to go to the Moon.