Forty years ago today, men walked on the moon for the first time. It was an amazing accomplishment, and one that people told President John F. Kennedy would not, and should not, ever happen. But he did not listen to the naysayers. He believed that government could accomplish big, sweeping things; and furthermore, government should challenge itself to do so.
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.
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 many 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 which we intend to win, and the others, too (emphasis mine).
When was America’s last scientific breakthrough of this magnitude? Where is the sweeping vision of our leaders? Why is it that every time a government official proposes a grand idea, swarms of nasty little minds nibble it to death like piranhas attacking a tasty dolphin?
Universal health care? Can’t do it. Too expensive, too difficult to administer, can’t get the votes. Besides which, it’s socialized medicine, which is bad bad bad!
Stopping global warming and reversing its effects? No way. Too expensive, wouldn’t work, the technology isn’t there. Besides which, global warming is a hoax!
Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan? No way – have to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. So what if the Iraqis and Afghans don’t want us there? What the hell do they know? Besides, don’t you support the troops?
When did America become so afraid of knowledge and progress? When did we decide we were a nation of overcautious, cynical doom-and-gloomers, letting our misgivings overrule our optimism and can-do attitude?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for looking before we leap. But the idea is to leap, finally, once all the valid criticisms have been absorbed and addressed, and all the red herrings have been discarded.
May our country recover its courage and its vision, and rediscover what made it great: a determination to do wonderful things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.