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This day in history: JFK delivers iconic ‘We choose to go to the Moon’ speech

JFK delivering the "We choose to go to the Moon" speech at Rice University

On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy declared that by the end of the decade, the United States would land astronauts on the Moon. It was 57 years ago today when Kennedy stood in front of a crowd of roughly 35,000 at Rice University and delivered his historic speech.

The space race had become heated between the Soviets and the United States. Just six weeks prior to the speech, Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, became the first person in space. The pressure was on America to send astronauts into the final frontier.

John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, explained Kennedy’s reasoning behind the speech while giving a talk at Space Center Houston. Logsdon pointed out that the speech wasn’t just to rally and inspire the nation to reach for the Moon. It was to explain to the American people why the Apollo program needed to be a high priority, which would allow for a “boost” in funds.

JFK Rice SpeechKennedy succeeded. The Rice University speech wasn’t the first time Kennedy had called to reach the Moon within a decade. He had made the challenge in a speech earlier in the year to Congress. However, the Rice University speech was the one that galvanized public support, which led to government investment.

The U.S. government committed approximately $25 billion to the program, equivalent to over $100 billion today. NASA funding comprised 4.4% of the national budget in 1966. This amount of federal support further illustrates America’s dedication to taking the lead in the coveted space race.

No one knew if astronauts would make it to the Moon and walk on the surface. One thing was for sure: If it was possible, America wanted to be the first country to do it.

The speech marked a pivotal moment in the Apollo era, one that rallied the nation and committed the country to look to the Moon.

Watch the full speech in the NASA clip, where Kennedy proclaims his famous line, “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.”

Just seven years after the speech, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the Moon and the world celebrated. It was more than a historic moment. It was a global victory.

The IBM lectern President Kennedy used in his “moon-shot” speech, gifted from Rice University in 1993, is on display in our Starship Gallery. Relive the moment lunar missions were made with this unique Apollo-era artifact. Watch our short documentary on the conservation efforts the Space Center Houston curatorial team undertook to preserve the artifact for future generations:


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