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We choose to go to the Moon

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Title: We choose to go to the Moon  
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Language: English
Subject: Rice University, Timeline of the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Executive Order 11063, S/Y Manitou, AmeriCorps VISTA
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

We choose to go to the Moon

The Nation's Space Effort
John F. Kennedy speaks at Rice University
Duration 18 minutes
Date September 12, 1962 (1962-09-12)
Venue Rice Stadium
Location Rice University, Houston, Texas
Theme The US Space effort
This article is part of a series about
John F. Kennedy

President of the United States

  • "We choose to go to the Moon"

Assassination and legacy

The "Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort", or better known simply as the "We choose to go to the moon" speech, was delivered by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in front of a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962. It was one of Kennedy's earlier speeches meant to persuade the American people to support the national effort to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.


President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and House Speaker Sam Rayburn seated behind him
President John F. Kennedy delivers his proposal to put a man on the Moon before a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961

When John F. Kennedy became president in January 1961, Americans had the perception that the United States was losing the Space Race with the Soviet Union, which had successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, almost four years earlier.[1] The perception deepened when in April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space before the U.S. could launch its first Project Mercury astronaut. Convinced of the political need to make an achievement which would decisively demonstrate America's space superiority, and after consulting with NASA through his Vice President Lyndon Johnson to identify such an achievement, Kennedy stood before Congress on May 25, 1961, and proposed that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”[2][3]

Kennedy's goal required the expansion of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Space Task Group into a Manned Spacecraft Center. Houston, Texas was chosen as the site, and the Humble Oil and Refining Company donated the land in 1961, through Rice University as an intermediary. Kennedy took advantage of the 1962 construction of the facility to deliver a speech on the nation's space effort.

The speech

Kennedy's speech on the nation's space effort delivered at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962 (17m 40s).
See also Works related to We choose to go to the Moon at Wikisource
JFK explained the cost of the entire space budget to be "somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars", equating to 40 cent per week "for every man, woman and child in the United States", saying that the "high national priority" of the Moon program will require this to rise to more than 50 cents a week.[4]

On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered his speech before a crowd of 35,000 people in the Rice football stadium. The most memorable and quoted portion of the speech comes in the middle:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does [8]



Kennedy's speech used three strategies: "a characterization of space as a beckoning frontier; an articulation of time that locates the endeavor within a historical moment of urgency and plausibility; and a final, cumulative strategy that invites audience members to live up to their pioneering heritage by going to the moon."[10]


Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University, wrote in looking back on the speech on its 50th anniversary that:

Kennedy's oration was front-page news around the country. Pundits saw it as another Ted Sorenson-penned speech drenched in terrestrial aspiration. But for all of its soaring rhetoric, the Rice address was grounded in pragmatism. Kennedy made the case to taxpayers that NASA needed a $5.4 billion budget. Kennedy also did a tremendous job of connecting the moonshot to Houston in ways that thrilled locals. "We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength," he said. "And we stand in need of all three." What Kennedy did so brilliantly that day was frame the moonshot as being instrumental for U.S. security reasons.[11]

In popular culture

  • In the Falling Skies season 4 episode Til Death Do Us Part, resistance leader Tom Mason quotes part of the speech while trying to convince his family to launch an attack on an alien base on the moon. After they unearth the ship they need for the trip, Tom quotes the line "we choose to go to the moon" as part of his reaction.


  1. ^ "1962-09-12 Rice University." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
  2. ^ Howard E. McCurdy, et al. "Helpful Lessons From The Space Race." Issues In Science & Technology 27.4 (2011): 19-22. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
  3. ^ "Excerpt from the 'Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs'" NASA. 24 May 2004. 24 May 2015. .
  4. ^ JFK Rice speech: cost (video)
  5. ^ This football joke was handwritten by Kennedy into the speech text (full story). Since the 1962 season, the Rice Owls have been 2-43 versus the Texas Longhorns.
  6. ^ Kennedy pauses here for applause, and attempting to continue, repeats the clause "We choose to go to the Moon" several times over the continuing applause.
  7. ^ Here Kennedy is referring to auxiliary goals such as developing larger Saturn rockets and unmanned planetary exploration, mentioned earlier in the speech.
  8. ^ It is unclear why he ended this sentence with what sounds like an afterthought: "..., and the others, too."
  9. ^ "We choose to go to the moon." Wikisource. 7 Dec. 2011. 22 Oct. 2013. .
  10. ^ Jordan, John W. "Kennedy's Romantic Moon And Its Rhetorical Legacy For Space Exploration?" Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6.2 (2003): 209-231. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
  11. ^ Brinkley, Douglas. "50 Years Ago, Kennedy Reached for Stars in Historic Rice Address." Houston Chronicle. Houston Chronicle, 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.


  • DeGroot, Gerard. "The Dark Side Of The Moon." History Today 57.3 (2007): 11-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
  • Launius, Roger D. 2003. "Kennedy's Space Policy Reconsidered: A Post-Cold War Perspective." Air Power History 50, no. 4: 16-29. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2013)

External links

  • Video of full half-hour presentation (in hd)
  • John F. Kennedy Moon Speech at Rice Stadium and Apollo 11 Mission Video
  • The text, video and audio of the entire speech
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