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The President Who Made Apollo: John F. Kennedy and The U.S. Soviet Moon Race, From His Speeches, Letters, and Memos

Mo Liu, VI Form

 

The President Who Made Apollo: John F. Kennedy and The U.S. Soviet Moon Race, From His Speeches, Letters, and Memos

Editors’ Note:  Mo Liu conducted her History Fellowship research on J.F. Kennedy and his decision to go to the Moon. Below is the introduction and you can click here for the full paper:

Introduction

Soviets, Space, and Sputnik

As the gunpowder smoke of the Second World War slowly faded away, the United States and the Soviet Union were the only two superpowers remaining, and the formal allies soon turned into bitter rivals.[1]The United States believed it stood supreme in ideals, leadership, and influence, while the Soviet Union was determined to contest that claim and “by any means necessary” secure its position at the top.[2]Given the intense differences between their ideologies, cultures, and government structures, conflicts were inevitable. The Cold War, the longest war in modern history, began quietly without a shot of cannon.

Towards the end of WWII, the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for German rocketry technology as well as scientists working on the rocket development project. Rockets received attention primarily due to their potential as a military weapon; the sole function of rockets was thought to be as carriers of atomic warheads. The United States and the Soviet Union’s desperation to gain the secrets to German rocketry was, therefore, a result of their desire to strengthen each nation’s military arsenal. The rocketry competition rose to new heights on October 4, 1957, when the Soviets launched the first satellite into orbit.[3]The Soviet Union accomplished this great feat without making any previous announcement, so, when amateur space enthusiasts in the United States picked up Sputnik’s radio signals as it flew across the American sky, the entire nation reacted with amazement and disbelief. In an open letter to The New York Herald Tribune, economist Bernard Baruch described America’s reaction to Sputnik: “Suddenly, rudely, we are awakened to the fact that the Russians have outdistanced us in a race which we thought we were winning. It is Russia, not the United States, who has had the imagination to hitch its wagon to the stars and the skill to reach for the Moon and all but grasp it.”[4]The space race, as people would later call it, had officially begun. (more…)