Was President Kennedy a reluctant spacefarer?
Wernher von Braun, President Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson at NASA — feigning interest?
The 50th anniversary of the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy has prompted examination of his presidential legacies and in particular, the role he played in our race to the Moon. In an op-ed, Rand Simberg opines on how space buffs magnify and distort Kennedy’s space legacy – that in fact, JFK really didn’t care one whit for spaceflight and only challenged the Soviets to a Moon race for near-term, earthly political purposes.
No one conversant with the history of the Apollo program could seriously doubt that the impetus for setting the goal of a lunar landing within a decade was driven primarily by geopolitical considerations, rather than by a romantic notion of colonizing the Solar System. But there’s a bit more to the story. Simberg’s piece fails to recognize that close, hands-on experience with the unfamiliar often changes attitudes and that prejudices evolve over time.
Upon taking office, Kennedy had little interest in the space program but like Eisenhower with Sputnik, intervening events abruptly forced a change in his outlook. In April of 1961 Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth ...