Space Plans Reviewed

.According to Jerome Wiesner, as of April 1961, “Kennedy was, and was not, for space. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you find something else we can do?’ We couldn’t. Space was the only thing we could do that would show off our military power. . . These rockets were a surrogate for military power. He had no real options. We couldn’t quit the space race, and we couldn’t condemn ourselves to be second. We had to do something, but the decision was painful for him.” Wiesner added that he and Kennedy

talked a lot about do we have to do this. He said to me, “Well, it’s your fault. If you had a scientific spectacular on this earth that would be more useful—say desalting the ocean—or something that is just as dramatic and convincing as space, then we would do it.” We talked about a lot of things where we could make a dramatic demonstration—like nation building—and the answer was that there were so many military overtones as well as other things to the space program that you couldn’t make another choice.

If Kennedy could have opted out of a big space program without hurting the country in his judgment, he would have. Maybe a different kind of man could have said to the country, “Look, we are going at our own pace. We are going to let the Russians be first. We don’t care.” But Kennedy said, “If we could afford to do something else, we would do it. If we can’t, we had better get back where we belong.” I think he became convinced that space was the symbol of the twentieth century. It was a decision he made cold bloodedly. He thought it was good for the country.1