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  JFK Library releases recording of President Kennedy discussing race to the moon

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Author Topic:   JFK Library releases recording of President Kennedy discussing race to the moon
Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-25-2011 10:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum release
JFK Library Releases Recording of President Kennedy Discussing Race to the Moon

On what marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's first challenge to the country to commit to sending a man to the moon before the end of the 1960s, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that it has declassified and made available for research a presidential recording of President Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb discussing the future of the US space program. The meeting was held in the White House on September 18, 1963 and reveals President Kennedy's private concerns over waning public support for space exploration.

In President Kennedy's address to Congress on May 25, 1961, he urged the country to make sending a man to the moon a national priority:

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 the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
Over two years later, President Kennedy is confronted with the financial burden that he predicted in 1961 and, in the conversation with Webb, expresses concern over what Congress and the public would see as the high cost of the space program. The President also discusses the challenges he foresees in trying to maintain the American public's interest in space exploration when, in fact, there would not be a moon landing during his presidency. He says, "I mean if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot of its glamour."

"President Kennedy was both a visionary and a realist," said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. "He understood the necessity of having both public and Congressional support if his vision of landing a man on the moon was to become a reality before the end of the 1960's."

The President and Webb go on to discuss in great detail the need to link defense or national security to the space program in order to garner the political support needed for the program's success. President Kennedy describes this point in time as "mid journey" for the country's space initiative.

...I think this can be an asset, this program. I think in time, it's like a lot of things, this is mid-journey and therefore everybody says 'what the hell are we making this trip for' but at the end of the thing they may be glad we made it.
Later in the conversation, President Kennedy comments that going to the moon must be more than just a "stunt". At one point the President said to Webb:
Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon? But it seems to me...we've got to wrap around in this country, a military use for what we're doing and spending in space. If we don't, it does look like a stunt...
The President's uneasy tone during this meeting is in contrast to his public statements at the time, which were far more optimistic about the space program's future. A year earlier, in November 1962, the President and Webb had met at another White House meeting which has been described as adversarial. At that time, the roles were reversed: in 1962, the President was brimming with political confidence in the space program while Webb expressed concern that beating the Russians to the Moon should not be the space program's top priority. Now in September 1963, the President is faced with the challenge of maintaining public support when the rewards of space travel remain years away. This time it is Webb who reassures the President telling him, "it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation":
President Kennedy: If I get re-elected, I'm not — we're not — go to the moon in my — in our period are we?...

Webb: No, no. We'll have worked to fly by though while you're President but it's going to take longer than that. This is a tough job, a real tough job. But I will tell you what will be accomplished while we're President and it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation. A basic need to use technology for total national power. That's going to come out of the space program more than any single thing.

President Kennedy: What's that again?

Webb: A basic ability in this nation to use science and very advanced technologies to increase national power — our economy all the way through.

President Kennedy: Do you think the lunar, the manned landing on the moon is a good idea?

Webb: Yes sir, I do.

President Kennedy: Why?

Webb: Because...

President Kennedy: Could you do the same with instruments much cheaper?

Webb: No sir, you can't do the same. (break) While you're President, this is going to come true in this country. So you're going to have both science and technology appreciating your leadership in this field. Without a doubt in my mind. And the young of course see this much better than in my generation. The high school seniors and the college freshman are 100% for man looking at three times what he's never looked at before. He's looking at the material of the earth, the characteristics of gravity and magnetism and he's looked at life on earth. And he understands the Universe just looking at those three things. Alright, maybe he's gonna have, material from the Moon and Mars; he's going to have already a measurement from Venus about its gravity and its magnetic fields. And if we find some life out beyond Earth, these are going to be finite things in terms of the development of the human intellect. And I predict you are not going to be sorry, no Sir, that you did this.

Just two months after President Kennedy's conversation with Webb, in a speech at the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio, Texas on November 21, 1963, the President reaffirmed his commitment to the space program, embracing the challenges that the country faced in its quest to reach the moon:
This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against.
The recorded meeting is open in full without any redactions. Unlike many of the presidential recordings from the Kennedy Library Archives, the quality and clarity of the tape recording are exceptional. Today's release is from Tape 111. Approximately 30 hours of un-reviewed meeting tapes remain. Processing of the presidential recordings will continue to be conducted in chronological order.

The first items from the presidential recordings were opened to public research in June of 1983. Since that time, the Library staff has reviewed and opened the telephone conversations and a large portion of the meeting tapes. The latter are predominantly meetings with President Kennedy in either the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. While the recordings were deliberate in the sense that they required manual operation to start and stop the recording, they were not, based on the material recorded, used with daily regularity nor was there a set pattern for their operation. The tapes housed at the JFK Library represent raw historical material. The sound quality of the recordings varies widely. Although most of the recorded conversation is understandable, the tapes include passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.

Today's release of White House meetings is available for research use in the Library's Research Room. The hours of operation are Monday — Friday from 8:30 am — 4:30 pm and appointments may be made by calling (617) 514-1629. The recordings and finding guide are available for purchase at the John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125, or by calling the Audiovisual Department (617) 514-1622. Members of the media are cautioned against making historical conclusions based on the sound clips and transcript alone. They are provided as a professional courtesy to facilitate the reporting of the release of these presidential recordings.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-25-2011 10:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum release
Excerpts And Transcripts

1. Space Exploration — Achievements and the Future

President Kennedy: What do you think of the general analysis of our problem?

James Webb: I think we're in good shape in every way except in the political front which is partly exacerbated by the desire to cut the budget and the problem with the military. I think we've got a good program you're going to be proud of and I think it's going to generate the technology that is going to make a great difference in the future of this country, far beyond space. (break) This thing attracts the public more than you think. I've been in 17 states with high school students in places where you have had a whole high school full of people —

President Kennedy: What's unfortunate would be, ah, as I say, maybe the Russians will have this thing but we don't have anything coming up now for the next 14 months. So I'm going into the campaign to defend this program, we won't have had anything for a year and a half. (break) If we're cut by that amount to 5 billion, 150, we're going to, say, slip, a year.

James Webb: We will slip at least a year, which means that if we run into any serious trouble we're — we don't want to be thinking about-

President Kennedy: If I get re-elected, I'm not — we're not — go to the moon in my — in our period are we?

Webb: Ah, no, you're not going.

President Kennedy: We're not going...yeah.

Webb: You'll fly by it probably.

President Kennedy: I'm not going personally, but it won't be done while we're-

Webb: No, no. We'll have worked to fly by though while you're President but it's just going to take longer than that. This is a tough job, a real tough job. But I will tell you what will be accomplished while we're President and it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation. A basic need to use technology for total national power. That's going to come out of this space program more than any single thing.

President Kennedy: What's that again?

Webb: A basic ability in this nation to use science and very advanced technologies to increase national power — our economy all the way through.

President Kennedy: Do you think the lunar, the manned landing on the moon is a good idea?

Webb: Yes sir, I do.

President Kennedy: Why?

Webb: Because...

President Kennedy: Could you do the same with instruments much cheaper?

Webb: No sir, you can't do the same. (break) The lunar landing gave us the impetus to build big boosters and to tailor them specifically for the purpose, therefore they're going to succeed otherwise they would not have succeeded or been efficient. The second reason is that in understanding the forces of nature and applying them right here on earth and using them for national power, you've got to have, sometime, a proof of the theory of how the universe was formed and how it applies back on the scientific concepts. You've got to prove or disprove. The Moon is the first place you can do that. It would either fall hot or cold and it has different structure, in either case and you need to know that. (break) While you're President, this is going to come true in this country. So you're going to have both science and technology appreciating your leadership in this field. Without a doubt in my mind. And the young of course see this much better than in my generation. The high school seniors and the college freshman are 100% for man looking at three times what he's never looked at before. He's looking at the material of the earth, the characteristics of gravity and magnetism and he's looked at life on earth. And he understands the Universe just looking at those three things. Alright, maybe he's gonna have, material from the Moon and Mars; he's going to have already a measurement from Venus about its gravity and its magnetic fields. And if we find some life out beyond Earth, these are going to be finite things in terms of the development of the human intellect. And I predict you are not going to be sorry, no Sir, that you did this.

2. Prestige and National Security — Mid Journey

Webb: We're stronger. We can do this job within the 28 billion, plus the 15, in this ten year period, but we've got to have enough level of support in '64 and '65 to get over the hump and then the expenditures will drop. Now suppose then we don't get that — suppose we have to drop back a few hundred million in both years, we still would have at a few hundred million below that, a fighting chance to do it, but not much more than a fighting chance.

President Kennedy: To do what?

Webb: To make the lunar landing within this decade.

President Kennedy: Is that right?

Webb: Yeah.

President Kennedy: If they cut this budget this year and next year —

Webb: We'd have a fighting chance. I'm trying to get this clearly in your mind, because you have to say something about this.
(break)

Webb: Now whether you want to start right now, belaboring the Republicans which I don't think you do, saying it may be — it's impossible to do this job in this decade. And that is a real political issue in '64. I'm not at all sure that you want to do that because I'm not sure that the country feels that strongly about this program right now.

(break)

Well, you see, we have in the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft that will fly men for long periods of time under zero G conditions and what we really need to know beyond that is what we could learn by putting a small centrifuge in a space station so that you could go from zero G, up to 1/10, 2/10 on up to 1G maybe to 2G's. But at least we would be closing the gap as to what happens, if 0G is something men can't tolerate in space. (break)

President Kennedy: Well I talked to the other day, about 2 weeks ago, to McNamara and Gilpatric for a few minutes and said that I thought the space program, looking ahead, unless the Russians did something dramatic and we don't have anything dramatic coming up for the next 12 months, so it's going to be an attack on the budget, but this looks like a hell of a lot of dough to go to the moon when you can go - you can learn most of that you want scientifically through instruments and putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn't worth that many billions. Therefore the heats going to go on unless we can say this has got some military justification and not just prestige. Otherwise Eisenhower is going to be kicking us around and we're going to look like he's probably right — they don't want to spend that kind of dough. Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon? (break) But it seems to me what we've got to try and do, is for the reasons you suggested: we've got to wrap around in this country, a military use for what we're doing and spending in space. If we don't, it does look like a stunt and too much money — some people — Christ, we can't get money for some ( ) and all the rest and people saying we're spending billions in going to the moon. If we can show that that's true but there's also a very significant military use. Now how are we going to do that.

Webb: What I would say —

President Kennedy. I think it's the only way we're going to be able to defend it before the public in the next 12 months. We're not going to have anything spectacular ourselves and if the Russians don't have any, it's going to be open season next year (break). But I'd like to see what we could do to get the military, you said they're holding out, but we can, we can give this thing a military slant. In the final — we can justify the military or national security route much better than we can justify the prestige these days. (break)

Webb: Would you be better off thinking about '64 in the political year, if you just took a military man and put him in charge of this program?

President Kennedy: That is a way, I don't think that what we ought to do now, but I am concerned that I have a — I think this can be an asset, this program. I think in time, it's like a lot of things, this is mid journey and therefore everybody says 'what the hell are we making this trip for' but at the end of the thing they may be glad we made it. But we've got to defend ourselves now and I think that at least its occurred to me that unless the Russians do something spectacular, the only way we can defend ourselves is if we put a national security rather than a prestige label on this.

3. Mid Journey

President Kennedy: I think this can be an asset, this program. I think in time, it's like a lot of things, this is mid journey and therefore everybody says 'what the hell are we making this trip for but at the end of the thing they may be glad we made it. But we've got to defend ourselves now and I think that at least its occurred to me that unless the Russians do something spectacular, the only way we can defend ourselves is if we put a national security rather than a prestige label on this.

4. President Kennedy on Image of Space Program

James Webb: Now what image do you want to present beyond this military image of military ( ) under this program?

President Kennedy: Obviously you want to present, ah like the thing you said, the kind of improvements in our national life which will come from this: the leadership of the United States and the national security we'll get from it — all those factors. The only thing that isn't today, particularly a plus, in I think surveys a year ago our space program was a much bigger political — now it's not as much because this happens to be, as I said, a still period in it. (break) The difficulty is that I'm not sure how much, right now, I don't think the space program has much political positives.

James Webb: I agree, I think this is a real problem.

President Kennedy: I mean if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot of its glamour.

James Webb: Well that's why I want to talk to you because I think there is some strategy issues relating to the election in '64 that we've got to face.

5. Webb on JFK's Leadership in Space

James Webb: While you're President, this is going to come true in this country. So you're going to have both science and technology appreciating your leadership in this field. Without a doubt in my mind. And the young of course see this much better than in my generation. The high school seniors and the college freshman are 100% for man looking at three times what he's never looked at before. He's looking at the material of the earth, the characteristics of gravity and magnetism and he's looked at life on earth. And he understands the Universe just looking at those three things. Alright, maybe he's gonna have, material from the Moon and Mars; he's going to have already a measurement from Venus about its gravity and its magnetic fields. And if we find some life out beyond Earth, these are going to be finite things in terms of the development of the human intellect. And I predict you are not going to be sorry, no Sir, that you did this.

6. JFK on Space as a Political Struggle

President Kennedy: It's become a political struggle now.

James Webb: Well it's a political struggle in Massachusetts where your brother's got the —

President Kennedy: Political struggle in the making because now - We got to hold this thing god damn it.

ilbasso
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From: Greensboro, NC USA
Registered: Feb 2006

posted 05-25-2011 12:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting to hear of Kennedy's perception that it was necessary for the USSR to continue to put the pressure on the US - both in terms of space spectaculars and the perceived military threat - to provide the impetus for continued public support of the Moon mission. Perhaps it will take a similar "threat" or perceived superiority from China to light the fire under the US public once again.

ApolloAlex
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From: Bromsgrove, England
Registered: Oct 2004

posted 05-29-2011 05:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ApolloAlex   Click Here to Email ApolloAlex     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting to read especially as I'm reading Piers Bizony's book "The Man Who Ran the Moon." The politics involved was quite something especially even early in the program it had its skeptics and enemies who felt it was a waste of resources and thankfully due to James Webb's management for eight years was able to continue to pursue Kennedy's dream.

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