Tape shows Kennedy worried over moon program funds

Former president tell NASA administrator there needs to be a way to find a military justification to convince public of program's importance.

May 25, 2011 15:16
1 minute read.

John F. Kennedy. (photo credit: National Park Service/National Archives)


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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 backing.

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.

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"It's 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.

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