John F. Kennedy, Part 1

John F. Kennedy, Part 1

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John F. Kennedy, Part 1

Architect of Apollo

By Frank White

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 1995, All Rights Reserved

This message is the nineteenth in a series of Space Frontier Foundation essays designed to inform the Internet public about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space and the forth in Frank White’s series on the Visionaries Of The Open Frontier.

The role of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States from 1961 to 1963, in the human movement onto the frontier, has been a matter of some debate within the space movement. In Part One of our consideration of former President Kennedy’s contribution, we will look at the critical side of the equation and then at the positive view. In Part Two, we will try to reconcile these two perspectives.

On the one hand, then, there are those who see the Apollo program as a distraction that took us away from a more incremental movement off-planet, beginning with a presence in Low Earth Orbit or at one of the libration points, and then moving outward to the moon, Mars and beyond. These critics would also argue that Apollo forever inscribed in the minds of humanity a false image of what space exploration ought to be, i.e., a big, expensive, government program designed to serve terrestrial political purposes alone. The final rap against President Kennedy is that he didn’t care particularly about opening the frontier. He was really interested in finding something spectacular that the United States could do to show American superiority to the Soviet Union. Apollo turned out to fit the bill, but it could have been something else, and the President would have been satisfied.

On the other hand, there are those who see Apollo as the crowning achievement of human space activity on the frontier, a benchmark, a standard against which all other efforts can be measured. These proponents of the Kennedy legacy would argue that Apollo gave us the view of the Earth from space, (which I have called “The Overview Effect”) and that the value of the resulting shift in consciousness is itself worth all the money spent on Apollo. The program also showed what humans can do on the frontier when they are provided with a vision and clear goal, such as, “Put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to Earth by the end of the decade.”

Finally, supporters of Kennedy’s contribution might well note that he must have had some understanding of the meaning of space exploration, having dubbed his entire Administration “The New Frontier.”

In Part Two of this essay, we will ask which of these two perspectives appears most valid with hindsight.

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