Yesterday we had an away-day to brainstorm about future directions of the OU’s Computing Research Centre, of which KMi is a core founding partner. The CRC is planning to become a major UK research powerhouse, and already the ‘stars are beginning to align’, as they say. Lots of good people there, and lots of synergies evident.
I was asked to provide some ‘kick-start’ remarks early on in the proceedings, and the time seemed right to provide ‘just’ commentary and analysis (i.e. with no slides), accompanied by some key audio clips. I have long been inspired by those JFK speeches in 1961 and 1962 that launched the man-on-the-moon mission, and although the speeches may be thought of by some as over-used and now over-clichéd, my hunch told me otherwise. In particular, I had decided not to use the most famous passages (e.g. “We choose to go to the moon.”) but rather the following segment, from the speech JFK gave at Rice University on September 12th 1962 (relevant URLs below) — the emphasis below is mine:
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.
“Have not yet been invented…” Wow! How phenomenal is that? I was a teenager at the time, and those words hit me like a bolt of lighting, and of course have stuck with me ever since. The lunar effort (indeed the post-Sputnik space race from 1957 onwards) triggered a massive investment in science, mathematics and technology in the early 60’s that led directly to the training and (I believe) correlated attitude of the generation that went on to create the Arpanet/Internet, the Mac, the PC, the iPod, Silicon Valley and… well, you can see where this is going…
Kennedy undersood the symbolic significance of getting to the moon, even if he didn’t necessarily place the science itself as top priority. I say this in light of some later information, provided by the so-called ‘Kennedy Tapes’, as described in this article from Space.com:
The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston has just released a tape recording of the meeting, which took place at the White House on November 21, 1962. In the meeting, Kennedy faced off against NASA Administrator James Webb, who pushed for a broader mission for NASA.
On the tape, Webb tells Kennedy that some of the nation’s top space scientists doubt whether it is possible to send humans on a lunar voyage. “There are real unknowns about whether man can live under the weightless environment,” he says. Committing to a manned lunar landing, Webb tells the president, could leave the country vulnerable to failure. Instead, Webb insists, landing on the moon should be only part of a broad effort by NASA to understand the space environment and its effects on human beings.
Webb’s tone in confronting the nation’s chief executive is fearless. Historian John Logsdon of George Washington University says Webb “must have felt very strongly about this,” adding that there had been a running feud at NASA Headquarters about how much importance Apollo should have.
But Kennedy stands firm, telling Webb that the moon landing is NASA’s top priority. ” This is, whether we like it or not, a race. Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians.”
Here are some links where you can retrieve some great video and audio clips (and, in many cases, the complete audio) from JFK speeches of the time:
JFK Library: Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort (full text, full audio in RealPlayer format)
NASA archives: JFK Rice Moon Speech (full text, plus video segments)
Rice University Archives: John F. Kennedy’s Speech at Rice(full text, plus video)
Miller Center (U Virginia) John F Kennedy Speeches (great MP3 collection)
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