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.
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.