We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Those of you who weren’t born yet can’t know how inspiring that speech was. Or how inspired we all were to follow NASA’ s Mercury and Apollo missions, leading up to that nerdgasm we experienced when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface on July 20th, 1969. I was ten years old. My father the scientist let my brother and I stay up as late as we wanted that night to follow the news. The family watched the grainy television broadcast, amazed that we could actually see pictures transmitted from that far away. There was the satisfaction of beating the Soviets to the moon -that was the goal all along, of course. But after watching Armstrong walking on the surface, we all went outside and gazed at the moon, just drinking in the awesomeness of how a human being, regardless of nationality, was walking around up there! That was the moment I first understood that anything in this world -and outside this world- was possible.
How will you commemorate the 40th anniversary of man’s first step on the moon? I don’t know if you’ll get a feel for the way things really were, but you’ll get a chance to taste it at the site We Choose The Moon, presented by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Bookmark it, so you can follow the events of 40 years ago recreated in real time, beginning with the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16th. The site is in “phase one” now, and “phase two” will begin tomorrow. If you’re going to be busy or out of town next week and miss the fun, you can replay the whole thing for your convenience anytime after July 20th.