JKF didn't give a damn about the moon, just wanted to beat the Soviets.
August 23, 2001 4:52 PM   Subscribe

JKF didn't give a damn about the moon, just wanted to beat the Soviets. Newly released tapes reveal that President Kennedy didn't really have 2001 – A Space Odyssey in mind when he pushed for the Apollo program. "The President wanted it made clear that it (Apollo) was 'the' priority program — not only for NASA but for the entire government — with the desired result being that the United States would beat the Russians to the moon."
posted by Brilliantcrank (20 comments total)
This is new? For years, I've watched historical documentaries about space exploration, most all of which included Kennedy's talks with his staffers and NASA people (then called something completely different), asking "So what can we beat the Soviets at?" Their reply was that travel to the Moon was the only area where the Soviets weren't ahead of us in terms of R&D. And the rest is history.
posted by fooljay at 5:14 PM on August 23, 2001

You know, in retrospect I see what you were going for perhaps: "That this was JFK in his own words". I can dig it...
posted by fooljay at 5:15 PM on August 23, 2001

he was killed a year and a day after tape was made.
posted by clavdivs at 6:01 PM on August 23, 2001

Carl Sagan called it in Pale Blue Dot.
posted by crasspastor at 6:14 PM on August 23, 2001

and Russia got there first. how funny is that.
although, they knew enough not to send people.
posted by tiamat at 9:00 PM on August 23, 2001

although, they knew enough not to send people.

Oh, they were trying, but they had that little problem with the booster rockets exploding. If they could have done it, they'd have done it, and then there's be a hammer & sickle ever waving on the moon. No thanks.
posted by lileks at 9:04 PM on August 23, 2001

I was surprised at the play this got today, as I assumed it was common knowledge JFK mainly wanted to beat the Russians. One of mankind's greatest accomplishments was just a fringe benefit...
posted by owillis at 9:37 PM on August 23, 2001

The Russian program had a tendency to crash landers, as well. We would have had the same problem but we had human pilots who could override the lander instructions.

The first Apollo landing surveys were out of date and the field was full of debris, so Armstrong hit the override and brought it down by hand.
posted by faisal at 10:30 PM on August 23, 2001

"er, IIRC"
posted by faisal at 10:30 PM on August 23, 2001

I knew that JFK wanted to beat the Russians but I always believed that he had some kind of vision for Americas space program beyond just being competitive. Crap, he should have just challenged Nikita to a 5k race. It would have been a lot cheaper.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 10:57 PM on August 23, 2001

Faisal, it wasn't possible to build an automated lander in 1967. Computers were woefully slow and terribly heavy and large. (An IBM 360 mainframe had less memory and compute power than a modern PDA.) Armstrong was always expected to land manually; there wasn't any other mode. It is true, however, that he spotted things below him that he didn't like and moved over a bit before bringing it down. But there wasn't any "override" because he was flying it manually the whole time.

You can't believe how tense it was waiting for word as to whether they had landed safely.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:02 PM on August 23, 2001

(paranoid sarcasm)
Ofcourse we all know that you stupid Amerikans never landed on the moon and pain and English director to fake your moon landing video.

Ohh, sure you might have went into space once or twice, but it's mostly a tv show that releases a 5 minute clip every week or so and is really a secret operation to launder the large resources to keep the alien space technology under wraps.(end)

And what's wrong with the sickle and hammer? Right, all Russians are evil and they're all named Igor and have a hump and want to kill you, specifically you, well, maybe your mom and your neighbor.

I never got why Human exploration on the moon has been given such priority, sure it was a big challenge, more so than just going out to space, but really, most of the people I meet have never even heard of Yuri Gagarin, or Valentina Tereshkova and are very much so amazed to hear that Russia landed on the moon first and took the first pictures and got the first samples, never mind the first Venus or Mars probes/landings.
posted by tiaka at 5:34 AM on August 24, 2001

Heck, even the Tom Hanks-helmed HBO miniseries, From The Earth To The Moon made it clear that beating the Russians was the main point of the Apollo program. This was made specifically clear in the first episode, titled "Can We Do This?": The answer was "Yes. We have to." The first seven episodes are some of the best television ever made, but it sputters out badly after that. Oh yeah, go watch The Right Stuff again while you're at it.
posted by whuppy at 6:33 AM on August 24, 2001

then there's be a hammer & sickle ever waving on the moon. No thanks.

How very 1957 of you, lileks.

From the first Sputnik on, Krushchev used the Soviet space program to thump his chest and wave his dick at the U.S., and Kennedy, being a competitive guy, always rose to take the bait. Now we just have, as fooljay points out, actual source material rather than just written historical accounts of something that has been widely known for the last 40 years.

I don't think it was a total waste to push so hard to do a manned space program -- the technology R&D certainly paid off in a number of ways over the years (heck, Tang alone was worth it) -- but in the long-term analysis it doesn't matter what flag made it to the moon first.
posted by briank at 6:41 AM on August 24, 2001

and then there's be a hammer & sickle ever waving on the moon. No thanks.

Is it that much better for the Stars and Stripes to be ever "waving" on the moon? In a thousand years will the United States as an entity really matter? I would have preferred a simple message from Earth and maybe the flag of the UN. But then, that wouldn't satisfy American's nationalistic urges.
posted by daveadams at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2001

I think it would have been cool had the Soviets landed on the moon first. Then maybe Kennedy would have pushed NASA to develop a Mars mission.

In retrospect, the space race got a lot of people's hopes up unreasonably high. It's kind of hard to get excited about a big shiny new space station when you've been hearing about space stations all your life, and you're waiting for the goddamned Mars mission already, and it just doesn't happen.

posted by Mars Saxman at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2001

I don't understand why there wasn't a "quality of life" race or something... there's really no logical reason to throw billions into military and space missions instead of social programs. That would have also instilled national pride, seemingly in a much more direct way.
posted by kidsplate at 9:34 AM on August 24, 2001

Shhhh, kidsplate, the Missile Shield people might hear you.....
posted by briank at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2001

kidsplate: it doesn't lend well to snappy soundbites
posted by tj at 11:50 AM on August 24, 2001

There's really no logical reason to randomly lump together military spending with space missions, either.
posted by youhas at 3:25 PM on August 24, 2001

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