Ever wondered why the manned space programme took a back seat after the US got to the moon?
Cos the point of going to the moon - was ONLY to beat the Soviets.
- BJD, July 14, 2009
I say, Thank you Mr Kennedy.
I've read through my esteemed colleague BJD's post and the corresponding comments about the theory that the only reason why America went to the moon was to beat the Soviets; whilst I agree both in principle and fact, I suspect that Kennedy's reasons for placing a man on the moon were bound up ultimately in a much bigger fear - namely the diversion from what could have been a nuclear war.
When the bleeping tin ball Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957, it was done so using the R-7 launch vehicle which was designed initially to carry nuclear warheads. Did this send waves of fear through the US Defence Dept? You bet.
"It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space.... It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency.... NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology."
- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Director, Hugh Dryden, 14 January 1958.
Personally I think that the only reason why a civilian agency was even mooted was to make the proposal palatable to the US Congress. Suddenly it was possible to land a nuclear warhead on any point on the planet, and so it was very much "spare underpants time" in the Pentagon.
So what does this have to do with putting a man on the moon? Kennedy I think was very much scared about the possibility that the Soviets intended to do nasty things to the USA.
Less than three months after Kennedy assumed the Presidency in April 1961, he ordered the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in Communist Cuba. US-trained force of Cuban exiles were to invade southern Cuba with support from US government armed forces to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The Cubans themselves were backed by the Soviets.
In September of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev agreed to place nuclear missiles in Cuba; these facilities were discovered by U-2 Spy Planes, and by about October 8 the world probably came very very close to nuclear war. The only reason that the Cuban Missile Crisis came to and end was to do with a no-invasion agreement brokered by the United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, Kennedy and Khrushchev on October 28, 1962.
"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."
- John F Kennedy, October 22 1962.
Is it little wonder therefore that Kennedy wanted to engage the USA and the Soviet Union in a race to the moon whatever the cost? "Fantastic expenditures which wreck the budget"? Kennedy himself said that only justification for it was to beat them [The Soviets]. I also think that "beating the Soviets" given the events that immediately preceded the quote of November 21 1962 was inexorably bound up with "defense, the top priority of the United States government"
Money after all is said and done is merely a tool. By committing monies untold and fantastic, I think that Kennedy probably saved maybe 100 million people's lives. If nuclear war actually had broken out, then I shudder to think what would have happened.