Moon Shot - JFK and Space Exploration

May 16, 2009—April 28, 2010

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... ”  President John F. Kennedy, address at Rice University, September 12, 1962 

The US space program went full throttle in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to claim a leadership role in space and land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The Soviet Union, America’s rival in the Cold War, had surged ahead of the United States with spectacular achievements in space that struck fear into the hearts of many American citizens. Soviet leaders hailed these feats as a triumph of Communism. When a leading American physicist was asked what would be found on the Moon, he replied, “Russians.”

President Kennedy was convinced that with a strong commitment of a free people, America could get there first. On May 25, 1961, he urged the nation to make that commitment. He appealed to the spirit of adventure, to patriotic pride, and to the cause of freedom. America responded with one of the greatest mobilizations of resources and manpower in U.S. history. Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, two American astronauts walked on the Moon. It was a stunning achievement that boosted American confidence and prestige at home and around the world. 

Though he didn’t live to see it happen, it was JFK who harnessed America’s energies to the goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. This exhibit focuses on the elements that combined to achieve that success: the grand vision and hard science—the imagination and engineering—the poetry and power that characterized so much of the Kennedy Presidency.

Exhibit Highlights

  • a model of Friendship 7 Project Mercury space capsule and the atlas booster rocket presented by Astronaut John Glennto President Kennedy
  • a model of Gemini spacecraft presented to President Kennedy
  • a Project Mercury spacesuit, helmet and boots and the prototype drawings for the torso assembly, underwear spacer garment, and helmet assembly
  • a reading copy of President Kennedy's address at Rice University on the Nation's space effort, September 12, 1962
  • a memo between President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson on the state of the nation’s space program, April 20, 1961
  • Also on display is a lunar sample that was brought back to earth by the Apollo 15 mission