Season 2, Episode 5: JFK and the Space Race

April 18, 2019

About This Episode

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When President Kennedy took office in 1961, the United States appeared to be struggling to keep up with the Soviet Union on space exploration. He made space a priority and promised to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. In this episode, we’ll talk with historian Doug Brinkley on how President Kennedy helped turn things around and set up the country for a successful lunar landing almost 50 years ago.

View the transcript for this episode.

What We Talked About

While Ted Sorensen, JFK’s chief speechwriter, wrote most of the speech given at Rice University, it was NASA that drafted the famous line, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade, not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard.” (TCSPP-069-011)

Dr. Wernher von Braun briefs President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in front of the Saturn C-1 rocket, an early design of the Saturn V which would take Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Von Braun had worked with the Nazi regime in Germany building weaponized rockets and was recruited by the US Army to do  the same in “Operation Paperclip.”

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President John F. Kennedy delivers remarks at Rice University regarding the nation's efforts in space exploration. 

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President John F. Kennedy and astronaut Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn, Jr. look inside space capsule Friendship 7. The Friendship 7 carried Glenn in orbit around the earth three times. Cecil Stoughton. more photos.

Learn More

Read about President Kennedy’s Rice Speech on the JFK Library Archives Blog.

View photos in our Space media gallery.

Read more about the Space Program during President Kennedy’s time in office.

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