25th May 1961 – Kennedy’s Moon Speech

25 May 2009

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. A number of political factors affected Kennedy’s decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States “catch up to and overtake” the Soviet Union in the “space race.” Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done. In addition, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in mid-April put unquantifiable pressure on Kennedy. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Vice President Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials, he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy’s speech.

The above clip is from NASA’s page on President Kennedy’s announcement of the decision to go to the Moon.

Here is an audio recording of the speach I found on YouTube.

Twelve people have walked on the surface of the Moon.

Apollo 11

  • Neil Armstrong – Commander
  • Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. – Lunar Module Pilot

Apollo 12

  • Charles Conrad, Jr – commander
  • Alan L. Bean – lunar module pilot

Apollo 14

  • Alan B. Shepard, Jr – Commander
  • Edgar D. Mitchell – Lunar Module Pilot

Apollo 15

  • David R. Scott – Commander
  • James B. Irwin – Lunar Module Pilot

Apollo 16

  • John W. Young – Commander
  • Charles M. Duke Jr. – Lunar Module Pilot

Apollo 17

  • Eugene A. Cernan – Commander
  • Harrison H. Schmitt – Lunar Module Pilot

Apollo 17 left the surface of the Moon on 14th December 1972. We have not been back since then.


Google Lunar X PRIZE

13 September 2007

The X Prize Foundation has announced today the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

The X PRIZE Foundation and Google Inc. today announced the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the Moon to win a remarkable $30 million prize purse. Private companies from around the world will compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to the Earth.

But time is short. The main prize must be won before 31st December 2012.

About the Prize Purse:

  • The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million Grand Prize, a $5 million Second Prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the Grand Prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. The Grand Prize is $20 million until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15 million until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation. To win the Second Prize, a team must land their spacecraft on the Moon, rove and transmit data back to Earth. Second place will be available until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation.
  • Bonus prizes will be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to Earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE website.

Some thing about this makes me uncomfortable. It is the fact that part of the prize is for messing with sites of enormous historical significance. Shouldn’t those sites be left alone until we decide how best to protect them. How would we feel if someone offered a prize to the first person to return with a piece of the Statue of Liberty?

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