Preparation of Kennedy’s message to Congress began in mid-May; the section on accelerating the space program was first drafted by the BOB’s Willis Shapley; NASA, DOD, AEC, and the Space Council provided their comments. The overall theme of the speech was the need for U. S. citizens to make sacrifices to meet the challenges facing the country and to insure the U. S. position as the leading power in the world by addressing “urgent national needs,” the title given to the address. After Kennedy received messages from Moscow suggesting that he was likely to encounter a belligerent Nikita Khrushchev in their meeting in Vienna, the speech was “quickly redrafted” and “the language toughened to signal his [Kennedy’s] resolve to Khrushchev.”25 On May 25, in a nationally televised address,26 President John F. Kennedy told the assembled lawmakers that “these are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed on this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause.” He noted that “there is no simple policy that meets this challenge.” But “there is much we can do—and must do. The proposals I bring before you are numerous and varied. They arise from the host of special opportunities and dangers which have become increasingly clear in recent months.” Then the president turned to his specific proposals, which included measures to continue economic recovery from the recession the new administration had inherited; measures to help developing nations make economic and social progress; cooperation in terms of military alliances and military assistance to U. S. allies; an enhanced overseas information program; an additional build-up of U. S. military power beyond what Kennedy had requested just two months earlier; a strengthened civil defense program; and an increased emphasis on disarmament negotiations. All of these initiatives, Kennedy said, would involve substantial costs. Echoing his inaugural address call to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Kennedy argued that “our greatest asset in this struggle is the American people—their willingness to pay the price for these programs—to understand and accept a long struggle.” He warned that “this Nation is engaged in a long and exacting test of the future of freedom.”
After listing all of the other areas he was recommending for new action, the president turned last to space. As he did, he deviated from his prepared text to emphasize the sacrifices involved and the commitment he was requesting; Sorensen says that this departure from the text was “the only time I can recall his doing so in a formal address.”27 Kennedy’s words as they deviated from the prepared text are indicated in bold italics below. Kennedy also skipped a few portions of the prepared text or deleted passages by hand. These deletions from the prepared text are in brackets:
Finally, if we are to win the battle for men’s minds, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all as did Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and all the talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.
Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make [find] us last.
We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world—but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.
I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more [exciting or] impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. [Including the necessary supporting research, this objective will require an additional $531 million this year and still higher sums in the future.] We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar spacecraft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fueled boosters much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon—it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.
* * *
Let it be clear—and this is a judgment which the Members of Congress must finally make. Let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action—a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs, 531 million dollars in fiscal 1962—an estimated $7-9 billion additional over the next five years. If we are
[were] to go only halfway, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.
Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.
It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of the mastery of space.
I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.
[Let me stress that more money alone will not do the job.] This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.
New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could, in fact, aggravate them further—unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant involved gives his pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.28
Sitting near the rostrum as Kennedy delivered his speech, Sorensen “thought the President looked strained in his effort to win them over.” Kennedy apparently had sensed that some in the Congressional audience were “skeptical, if not hostile, and that his request was being received with stunned doubt and disbelief”; this likely led to his decision to deviate from his prepared text to try to convince the congressmen of the need for what he was proposing, and to skip a few passages toward the end of his address. Returning to the White House, Kennedy remarked to Sorensen that “the routine applause with which the Congress greeted” his proposal for a national commitment to go to the Moon had struck him as “less than enthusiastic.”29 Indeed, during the speech the Senate and House Republican leaders “took notes, inspected their fingernails, brushed their hair back and joined in the almost complete Republican silence.”30
The New York Times the next morning had a banner headline saying “Kennedy Asks $1.8 Billion This Year to Accelerate Space Exploration, Add Foreign Aid, Bolster Defense” and also “Moon Trip Urged.” The newspaper reported that “Members of Congress embraced with some warmth today the objectives outlined in President Kennedy’s speech, but shied at providing all the funds to meet them,” and that “some fears were expressed by Democratic liberals, however, that the huge spending in the effort to reach the moon. . . might divert funds from programs such as aid to the aged.” The Times editorialized that “there is an element of ‘race’ involved cannot be denied, but that is only secondary to the main purpose” and that “it is in the spirit of free men, and the cherished traditions of our people, to accept the challenge and meet it with all our resources, material, intellectual and spiritual.” The editorial thought that “the majority of our people will agree” with the lunar landing goal.31
Kennedy need not have worried about congressional, and particularly Senate, support of the accelerated space effort he had proposed. Lyndon Johnson’s earlier consultations with congressional leaders had helped lay the foundation for strong bipartisan support of the initiative. The Senate on June 28 took up a House authorization bill passed the day before the May 25 speech, and amended it to include the full $1.784 billion for NASA that White House had requested for Fiscal Year 1962; the bill passed without even the formality of a roll-call vote. The House of Representatives agreed to this increase in a conference committee, and the authorization bill passed the House on July 20 by a 354 to 59 vote. The appropriations bill containing NASA funds had a similarly easy ride through Congress; it passed both houses on August 7 and contained a $1,671,750,000 NASA appropriation for Fiscal 1962, only $113 million less than Kennedy had requested.32 This amount represented an 89 percent increase over the previous year’s NASA budget, the last one enacted during the Eisenhower administration.
Kennedy’s speech called for sending Americans to the Moon “before the decade is out.” There is some uncertainty on how the decision was made to use this phrase, rather than the 1967 date for the first landing attempt that was being used in NASA’s internal planning. The May 8 Webb-McNamara report had suggested an “end of the decade” target for the first lunar landing. The BOB review of the Webb-McNamara memorandum had suggested that there should be “a major effort to avoid any public commitment to a specific target date.” Robert Seamans reports that the first draft of Kennedy’s speech “called for a lunar landing by 1967” and that NASA was “aghast” at specifying a particular year. He says that James Webb “called Ted Sorensen and convinced him, and later the President, that the stated goal should be by the end of the decade.” Sorensen, by contrast, says that Kennedy’s “self-imposed deadline, ‘this decade,’ was chosen and inserted by JFK himself to exert pressure on NASA. The phrase deliberately left some flexibility—it could mean within the decade of the sixties, or within the next ten years.”33 A “within the next ten years” interpretation was never acknowledged; “before this decade is out” was universally seen as setting a target of the end of 1969 (or, for some, before the end of 1970) for the initial lunar landing. Indeed, as the Apollo program gained momentum, John Kennedy pushed for a landing as soon as possible, in 1967 or even late 1966.