John F. Kennedy.
(photo credit: National Park Service/National Archives)
Just a week after the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, a newly
released tape has revealed that former US president John F. Kennedy was
worried that the costly space program he had initiated to make contact
on the moon was becoming a political liability as he began losing public
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The release of the recorded conversation between
Kennedy and NASA administrator John Webb comes on the 50th anniversary
of the president's famous May 25, 1961 speech, in which he declared that the
US would reach the moon by the decade's end. Kennedy and Webb, however,
expressed in the September 18, 1963 meeting that funding for the huge
feat was at risk. Kennedy tells Webb that the two need to find a
"military justification" for the mission.
become a political struggle now," Kennedy said near the end of the
46-minute tape. The conversation was recorded as the 1964 elections were
approaching, and Kennedy was worried that the massive program had
become a liability on his reelection campaign.
Kennedy expressed regret that the American public had lost interest
since then-US rival Russia had had not made much progress on their side
of the space race. "I mean if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then
it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot
of its glamor," Kennedy said.
At the same time, Webb acknowledged that the high costs of the program
had provided fire for lawmakers against the Democrat incumbent.
Kennedy, seeking to find a solution to the funding woes, said that US
citizens needed to believe there was a "military justification and not
just prestige...I want to get the military shield over this thing."
The September 1963 conversation, recorded just months before his assassination, is part of a series of some 260 hours of White
House recording under review by the archivists at the John F. Kennedy
Presidential Library and Museum.