We Choose to Go to the Moon, John F. Kennedy, 1962
President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor,
Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and
Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists,
distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:
I appreciate your president having made me an honorary
visiting professor, and I will assure you that my first
lecture will be very brief.
I am delighted to be here, and I'm particularly delighted
to be here on this occasion.
We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city
noted for progress, in a State noted for strength,
and we stand in need of all three, for we meet
in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade
of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge
and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the
greater our ignorance unfolds.
Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists
that the world has ever known are alive and working
today, despite the fact that this Nation’s own scientific
manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of
growth more than three times that of our population as a
whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown
and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip
our collective comprehension.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have
come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of
man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-
century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about
the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced
man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover
them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man
emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of
shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use
a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years
ago. The printing press came this year, and then less
than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span
of human history, the steam engine provided a new
source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month
electric lights and telephones and automobiles and
airplanes became available. Only last week did we
develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and
now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching
Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before
This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot
help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance,
new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of
space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high
So it is not surprising that some would have us stay
Where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city
of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United
States was not built by those who waited and rested
and wished to look behind them. This country was
conquered by those who moved forward--and so will
William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the
Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable
actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both
must be enterprised and overcome with answerable
If this capsule history of our progress teaches us
anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and
progress, is determined and cannot be deterred.
The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in
it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time,
and no nation which expects to be the leader of other
nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.
Those who came before us made certain that this country
rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first
waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear
power, and this generation does not intend to founder in
the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to
be part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world
now look into space, to the moon and to the planets
beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it
governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner
of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not
see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but
with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in
This Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first.
In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our
hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves
as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to
solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all
men, and to become the world's leading space-faring
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
Kennedy, John F. "We Choose to Go to the Moon." The Nation's Space Effort. Rice Stadium, Rice University, Houston, Texas. 12 Sept. 1962. Er.jsc.nasa.gov. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
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