Kennedy’s Final Words on Space

The recommendation to continue Apollo on its current path would most likely have been welcomed by the president. As the BOB review was under­way, John F. Kennedy repeatedly made clear his view that the United States should continue its effort to assume the leading position in space. Kennedy’s excitement during his November 16 visit to Cape Canaveral in recognizing that the upcoming Saturn 1 launch would give the United States the weight­lifting lead in space reflected this determination; he referred to that soon-to – be-realized achievement several times in remarks on November 21 and the morning of November 22 as he moved forward with his tragic Texas tour.

Perhaps Kennedy’s attitude on the space program on the last full day of his life are best reflected in remarks he made at the dedication of an aerospace medicine facility in San Antonio on November 21:

I think the United States should be a leader [in space]. A country as rich and powerful as this which bears so many burdens and responsibilities, which has so many opportunities, should be second to none. . . We have a long way to go. Many weeks and months and years of long, tedious work lie ahead. There will be setbacks and frustrations and disappointments. There will be, as there always are, pressures in this country to do less in this area as in so many oth­ers, and temptations to do something else that is perhaps easier. . . This space effort must go on. The conquest of space must and will go ahead. That much we know. That much we can say with confidence and conviction.

Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall—and then they had no choice but to follow them.

This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.21