We choose to go to the Moon
John F. Kennedy speaks at Rice University
|Date||September 12, 1962|
|Location||Rice University, Houston, Texas|
|Theme||The US Space effort|
President of the United States
Assassination and legacy
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech about the effort to reach the Moon, to a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. It was one of Kennedy's earlier speeches meant to persuade the American people to endorse the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.
When John F. Kennedy became president during January 1961, many Americans perceived that the United States was losing the Space Race with the USSR, which had successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, almost four years earlier. The perception increased when during April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space before the U.S. could launch its first Project Mercury astronaut. Convinced of the political need to make an achievement which would decisively demonstrate America's space superiority, and after consulting with NASA to identify such an achievement, Kennedy stood before Congress on May 25, 1961, and proposed 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."
Kennedy's goal gave a specific mission to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo program. This required the expansion of NASA's Space Task Group into a Manned Spacecraft Center. Houston, Texas was chosen as the site, and the Humble Oil and Refining Company donated the land during 1961, with Rice University as an intermediary. Kennedy took advantage of the 1962 construction of the facility to deliver a speech on the nation's space effort.
On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered his speech before a crowd of 35,000 people in the Rice University football stadium. The most quoted portion of the speech is in the middle:
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 may 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 we intend to win ...
According to an analysis by John W. Jordan, Kennedy's speech used three strategies: "a characterization of space as a beckoning frontier; an articulation of time that locates the endeavor within a historical moment of urgency and plausibility; and a final, cumulative strategy that invites audience members to live up to their pioneering heritage by going to the Moon."
When addressing the world at Rice University, he stated the American desire to do what had never been done before by exploring space, and being the first to do it with the pioneering spirit that had dominated American folklore since the nation’s foundation. This allowed Kennedy to reference back to his inaugural speech, when he declared to the world “Together let us explore the stars”.
Kennedy verbally condenses human history to fifty years, in which “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 midnight tonight.” With this extended metaphor, Kennedy sought to imbue a sense of urgency and change in his audience.
Most prominently, the phrase “We choose to go to the Moon” in the Rice speech is repeated three times consecutively, followed by an explanation that climaxes in his declaration that the challenge of space is “one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Considering the line before rhetorically asked the audience why they choose to compete in tasks that challenge them, Kennedy highlighted here the nature of the decision to go to space as being a choice, an option that the American people have elected to pursue. Rather than claim it as essential, he emphasized the benefits such an endeavor could provide – uniting the nation and the competitive aspect of it. As Kennedy told Congress earlier, “whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.” These were words that emphasized the freedoms enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them, and combined with Kennedy’s overall usage of rhetorical devices in the Rice University speech, these famous words are particularly apt as a declaration that began the American space race.
Altogether, Kennedy was able to describe a romantic notion of space in the Rice University speech with which all citizens of the United States, and even the world could participate, vastly increasing the number of citizens allegedly interested in space exploration. He began by talking about Space as the new frontier for all of mankind, instilling the dream within the audience. He then condensed human history to show that within a very brief period of time space travel will be possible, informing the audience that their dream is achievable. Lastly, he uses the first-personal plural “we” to represent all the people of the world that would allegedly explore space together, but also involves the crowd.
In popular culture
- In the Falling Skies season 4 episode "Til Death Do Us Part", resistance leader Tom Mason quotes part of the speech while trying to convince his family to begin an attack on an alien base on the Moon. After they reveal the ship they need for the voyage, Tom quotes the line "we choose to go to the Moon" as part of his reaction.
- Dance artist Dana Tai Soon Burgess created a dance work in collaboration with NASA called "We choose to go to the moon" that opened with audio from President Kennedy's speech, which included the iconic line. It premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2015.
- Excerpts from the speech are used throughout the song "The Race For Space" on the 2015 album of the same name by British alternative music group Public Service Broadcasting.
- On April 21, 2017, KFC released a campaign featuring Rob Lowe as astronaut Colonel Sanders giving a parody of JFK's Rice speech about launching the Zinger chicken sandwich into space.
- The speech was used prominently in the HBO mini series From the Earth to the Moon. In the first episode, it is met with enthusiasm by attendees and listeners, and marks the tone of the series. The line "We choose to go the Moon" is featured during the initial credits and an excerpt of the speech is chosen to close the series.
- List of missions to the Moon
- Apollo 11
- Neil Armstrong
- Buzz Aldrin
- Saturn (rocket family)
- Apollo Command/Service Module
- Apollo Lunar Module
- Trans-lunar injection
- Budget of NASA
- NASA spin-off technologies
- "1962-09-12 Rice University." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
- Howard E. McCurdy, et al. "Helpful Lessons From The Space Race." Issues In Science & Technology 27.4 (2011): 19-22. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
- "Excerpt from the 'Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs'". NASA. 24 May 2004. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
- NASA.gov Video (18 May 2013). "President Kennedy's Speech at Rice University" – via YouTube.
- This football joke was handwritten by Kennedy into the speech text (full story). Since the 1962 season, the Rice Owls have been 2-43 versus the Texas Longhorns.
- Kennedy pauses here for applause, and attempting to continue, repeats the clause "We choose to go to the Moon" several times over the continuing applause.
- Here Kennedy is referring to auxiliary goals such as developing larger Saturn rockets and unmanned planetary exploration, mentioned earlier in the speech.
- It is unclear why he ended this sentence with what sounds like an afterthought: "..., and the others, too."
- "We choose to go to the Moon." Wikisource. 7 Dec. 2011. 22 Oct. 2013. <https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/We_choose_to_go_to_the_moon>.
- Jordan, John W. "Kennedy's Romantic Moon And Its Rhetorical Legacy For Space Exploration?" Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6.2 (2003): 209-231. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
- Kennedy, John. “Rice University speech.” Speech, Washington D.C., September 12, 1962. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
- Kennedy, John. “Special Message to Congress on Urgent National Needs.” Speech, Washington D.C., May 25, 1961. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
- John W. Jordan, "Kennedy's Romantic Moon and Its Rhetorical Legacy for Space Exploration," Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6.2 (2003): 224, Project MUSE, EBSCOhost (accessed April 21, 2016). edspmu.S1534523803202095
- "Remarks at the University of Michigan Commencement Ceremony in Ann Arbor". George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
When John Kennedy talked of sending a man to the Moon, he didn't say, we want to avoid getting stranded on this planet. He said, we'll send a man to the Moon. We must be equally determined to achieve our common goals.
- Jane, O'Brien (7 October 2015). "Nasa collaborates on interpretive dance about Space". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
- Kaufman, Sarah (12 September 2015). "'We Choose to Go to the Moon': Kennedy dream inspires a dance". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
- Dawson, Victoria (14 September 2015). "A Dancer and a Scientist Deliver a New Take on the Moon Walk". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
- Rob Lowe as astronaut Col Sanders in JFK homage advert, KFC (April 21, 2017), KFC | Announcement | Zinger, retrieved April 21, 2017 (KFC YouTube channel, 6,895,336 views in 1 month, as of May 21, 2017)
- DeGroot, Gerard. "The Dark Side Of The Moon." History Today 57.3 (2007): 11-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
- Launius, Roger D. 2003. "Kennedy's Space Policy Reconsidered: A Post-Cold War Perspective." Air Power History 50, no. 4: 16-29. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2013)