The Atlantic

What John F. Kennedy’s Moon Speech Means 50 Years Later

“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.”
Source: NASA

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years later.

Fifty years after Neil Armstrong took that first step, the moon landing sticks in the public imagination as one of the most important moments in human history. But as is often the case with collective memory, its meaning splits in more than one direction.

It was a beautiful adventure that inspired people around the globe; it was a rushed, deadly effort by one nation to best another. It was a stunning show of a uniquely American brand of courage and ingenuity; it was an extravagant expenditure that most Americans didn’t think was worth it. The inhabitants of one world tore away from its gravity and leapt toward that of another. In that sense—the cosmic kind that chronicles history in the billion-year lives of galaxies—it meant nothing at all.

Whatever it was, the Apollo project began in earnest inside a football stadium in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy declared that the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. The president had announced the mandate to Congress a year earlier. But it is this version, enthusiastic and urgent, that set the stage for the achievement Kennedy promised but didn’t live to see, and that shaped the rhetoric of space exploration for generations to come.

Below, the full text of his speech, as delivered

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