Wednesday, November 23, 2011

National will

I "lifted" the following text directly from the NASA History Office archives. Titled "The Decision to Go to the Moon: President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 Speech before a Joint Session of Congress," it's worth reading today at a time when we face so many challenges.

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 decision involved much consideration before making it public, as well as enormous human efforts and expenditures to make what became Project Apollo a reality by 1969. Only the construction of the Panama Canal in modern peacetime and the Manhattan Project in war were comparable in scope. NASA's overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy's speech; Projects Mercury (at least in its latter stages), Gemini, and Apollo were designed to execute Kennedy's goal. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.

I thought of this historic speech and all of the accomplishments that followed its vision as I watched the bp oil spill continue to assault the Gulf of Mexico. Whenever I hear people say that alternative energy is "impossible" or "impractical" or "not going to happen" for this reason or that, I think of Kennedy, his leadership and his outrageous vision.

If, as a people, we were willing to sacrifice during the retooling period, our economy could shift to alternative sources of energy development and we could become more green, more fully employed and more secure as a people.

To say that "it can't be done" is to say more about ourselves as a people than about what is technologically possible. A new visionary policy, complete with incentives and tax credits, could spawn an entire new economy that would lead us in a much more sustainable direction.

Kennedy saw this when he looked up at the moon. Growing numbers of us can see it as we watch our devastated Gulf marshes, shores, friends and wildlife.


rcorum said...

Kennedy had the ability to inspire that very few have. Right now there is nothing of that sort coming from the White House. It has gotten so bad that he is getting blasted from both sides. We do need alternative form of energy, but right now what the President needs to do is to inspire the clean up of the Gulf. The sad thing is that President Obama has the ability, but at this point every time he says anything both liberals and conservatives are there to pounce.

Anonymous said...

Kennedy was a leader as opposed to Obama who takes his orders from George Soros.Why do you think Obama has shut down drilling for 6 months? He was following the orders of George who has a vested interest in drilling moving to Brazil.

Lorlee said...

Might it be that it is shut down for 6 months so we can be sure that we aren't going to have 2 or 3 or countless holes in the ocean floor spewing oil into the Gulf. It is clear that BP didn't really have a plan -- and the other oil companies apparently have the same plan right down to the guy who has been dead for 5 years that you call when it happens.

Stuff I read says this thing may be spewing for a long time. Goodby Gulf, goodby Gulf states.

Anonymous said...

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste." Obama is loving every minute of this because he can use it to help pass his crap and tax bill.

belinda said...

Since I work for NASA, your title immediately caught my attention. While I am too young to have experienced this firsthand, I work with several people that did work here at that time. It was so exciting for them. EVERYONE had the same goal in mind. They worked long hours and never complained. Yes, it would be great if we had that same passion for the disaster in the Gulf.

Jerry said...

Let's notice the difference in the vision of President Kennedy and President Obama.

Kennedy: "We will, before the end of the decade, put a man on the moon and return him safely again to earth."

Obama: He wants to take us to a green future..."even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet
precisely know how we're going to get there."

Kennedy's vision has been and will continue to be studied by leadership gurus as one of the best if not the best vision ever outlined. Clear, concise, specific, measurable, and create, as Jim Collins calls is, a "gulp factor" when you hear it.

As I have said before, I wish to thunder we had a JFK on the national stage right now, and we are not close.

Another issue is that we had the technology components needed to attain the moon mission within a decade; we just needed to refine them. Presently, we do not have the necessary components for the transformation of the current economy to the green economy within a decade. Windmills and ethanol are a far cry from what it will require. Further, we did not have to face the regulations of competing Federal agencies to go to the moon. Witness what it takes to get around the Feds in just cleaning up the gulf! Gov. Jindel was cleaning up "crude" and was the US Coast Guard, in order to make sure that there were life jackets on the boats!
The French get 2/3rds of their electricity from nuclear power; we haven't built a new reactor in about 25 years because of Federal regs. If it is safe enough for the French, surely we can do it safely?
Finally, as I have said before, I am not against alternative energy; to the contrary, I am a strong supporter. But we will never get there as long as the Federal Govt stands in the way. Further, we will not be energized, as was NASA and the entire country by Kennedy's vision, with pronouncements such as follow me to a place "we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet precisely know how we're going to get there." Who will that excite? Give me a "moon" at which to shoot. In my consulting I continually reference JFK's moon speech and always conclude by asking, "what is your moon?" Our President needs to define in clear, concise, specific, measurable terms, in a manner that gives us a "gulp" when we hear it, exactly what our energy "moon" is. Until then, we will drift.

Anonymous said...


I searched through CDM's latest budget and audit reports for the words "utilities" and "electricity." Certainly, your organization uses electricity, but I could find no budget items related to it.

I assume when you call for us to muster our collective can-do spirits you include CDM. So what do you have to offer in the way of setting an example? What is your current electrical consumption cost/rate per year and what is your target goal for next year?

Based upon what you've stated in earlier posts, this is no time for you to conserve through improved efficiency. Incremental savings are for sissies, republicans, and other boobirds. If you have as much faith in our collective wills to overcome our rock-cocaine-quality addiction to oil as the aspirating oil heir by the name of Kennedy had when we put an American on the moon, then I assume you'll set a goal of cutting your consumption rate by at least half.

And there need be no rationality to support your strategy. Turning the lights off 30 minutes before quitting time and adding 3 or 4 degrees to the temp setting this summer are simply too rational. Your will-power and determination should net you some form of exponential savings.

Like Barack has done, set a high goal and then watch success happen.

Look forward to hearing your new energy consumption savings goal. I'm rooting for you.

c hand said...

Pedestrian is beneath Obama. Mr. Fix-It he is not. He is world-historical, the visionary, come to make the oceans recede and the planet heal.

How? By creating a glorious, new, clean green economy. And how exactly to do that? From Washington, by presidential command and with tens of billions of dollars thrown around. With the liberal (and professorial) conceit that scientific breakthroughs can be legislated into existence, Obama proposes to give us a new industrial economy.

But is this not what we've been trying to do for decades with ethanol, which remains a monumental boondoggle, economically unviable and environmentally damaging to boot? As with yesterday's panacea, synfuels, into which Jimmy Carter poured billions.
- Charles Krauthammer

Stephanie said...

Thank you for what you said, Larry! If people are willing to re-think what they consider a "normal" life and possibly even what they consider to be "God-given rights" and realize that we are ALL on the same planet TOGETHER sharing the same resources, maybe when each person takes responsibility we can start making alternative energy sources a reality, not a premium paid by the rich. I also think we should move back to the cities, quit living in the suburbs with giant gas-guzzling SUVs and your sprawling homes, but that's just my personal feelings. Home ownership isn't the American dream, the freedom to choose is.

Anonymous said...

One can tell this is an old post since Solyndra and the downfall of other "green jobs" plants.

Larry James said...

It is a reprise post. But your comment is off the mark. How many failures have been associated with the development and implementation of new technologies across the ages and more especially in the US? Does failure stop innovators? Should set backs shut down an obviously good idea that addresses a growing need? The loss of money is not the worst thing that can happen in the world. The loss of courage, vision and community is much worse.

Anonymous said...

Solyndra was never meant for the development of new technologies. What it was meant to be was a slush fund for campaign donors, for them to get their money back. Follow the money.

It wasn't even a good business plan. Each job cost between 16 and 22 million dollars.

Anonymous said...

I thought I recognized one of my posts. It's good to see my stuff holds up over time.

Larry James said...

Anon 5:14, please change your reset button from Rush to sports; then block FOX on your TV, esp after the news hours. All of the rest of us will be much happier and we can advance serious conversattion about alternative energy development.

Anonymous said...

I think your organization was involved in outfitting some houses with solar panels. Are they working out?

Anonymous said...

Someday we will probably have alternative energy for the masses. When that day comes, billions of dollars from the government will not be needed. The private sector will take over.

Larry James said...

Anon 3:29, we need public investment/incentives to get it going.

Anon 3:19, The solar panels work fine, but they aren't yet economically competitive with buying power from the electric company. This probably isn't surprising given the trillions of dollars that have gone into developing the infrastructure for the current system. The price of solar panels is coming down, and new technologies are being developed, so given the uncertainty in the prices of fossil fuel, that situation may change--or may not. Solar power is already competitively priced, and in fact often has a substantial price advantage, for remote applications, where the wire isn't already run.

By the way, we also have installed solar water heaters at some locatins and solar power is already price competitive for hot water.