First person on the moon

In his speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy said:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation.

One thing that wouldn’t have been generally noticed then, given the state of our culture at the time, is how extremely gendered this was. The idea that the first person on the moon might be a woman was not even entertained as a possibility.

In my more optimistic moments, I like to think how the culture has advanced since then. After all, cultures are always shifting, ideally for the better.

By way of reference, Kennedy would not have said, in 1961, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a white man on the moon”. Yes, there was enormous prejudice against people of color back then, but that is quite different from a categorical denial of possibility.

I would like to think that if someone with JFK’s sense of vision were to make the same speech today, it might read something like this:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a person on the moon and returning that person safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to humankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the explorer who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one individual going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation.

One Response to “First person on the moon”

  1. Adrian says:

    Alternatively, he might have said “American” rather than “person.” It was, after all, a part of the cold war to demonstrate the country’s superior technology, and the quote ends with how it would be a great accomplishment, not for humanity, but for “an entire nation.”

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