February 16, 2007

Presidential Space Speeches

Presidential Space Speeches

After reading about President Bush’s 2004 address — in which he announced U.S. plans to return to the Moon and eventually to send a manned mission to Mars — I became curious about past presidential speeches dealing with space. A few nuggets of presidential space rhetoric follow; note that not all presidents have used the same strategies.

Kennedy framed the space race as a matter of choosing an ambitious goal to prove our worth as a nation, (and not as a matter of competition). Nixon wanted to make space travel something routine, with clear practical benefits. Reagan saw space both as an avenue for international cooperation and as another front in the Cold War; and Clinton didn’t talk much about space until a chunk of Mars fell out of the sky. Where do you think President Bush’s latest address fits into this lineage?

Kennedy:

First, I believe 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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

John F. Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25th, 1961

We choose to go to the moon. 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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

John F. Kennedy, Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort, September 12, 1962

Finally, in a field where the United States and the Soviet Union have a special capacity–in the field of space–there is room for new cooperation, for further joint efforts in the regulation and exploration of space. I include among these possibilities a joint expedition to the moon. Space offers no problems of sovereignty; by resolution of this Assembly, the members of the United Nations have foresworn any claim to territorial rights in outer space or on celestial bodies, and declared that international law and the United Nations Charter will apply. Why, therefore, should man’s first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition?

John F. Kennedy, Address Before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations, September 20, 1963

Nixon:

This system will center on a space vehicle that can shuttle repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back. It will revolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it. It will take the astronomical costs out of astronautics. In short, it will go a long way toward delivering the rich benefits of practical space utilization and the valuable spinoffs from space efforts into the daily lives of Americans and all people.

Richard Nixon, 1972 Announcement on the Space Shuttle, January 5, 1972

Reagan:

Nevertheless, it will still be necessary to rely on the specter of retaliation, on mutual threat. And that’s a sad commentary on the human condition. Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are. Indeed, we must.

Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on National Security , March 23, 1983

Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade. A space station will permit quantum leaps in our research in science, communications, in metals, and in lifesaving medicines which could be manufactured only in space.

Ronald Reagan, State of the Union 1984, January 25, 1984

Bush 41:

In 1961 it took a crisis — the space race — to speed things up. Today we don’t have a crisis; we have an opportunity. To seize this opportunity, I’m not proposing a 10-year plan like Apollo; I’m proposing a long-range, continuing commitment. First, for the coming decade, for the 1990’s: Space Station Freedom, our critical next step in all our space endeavors. And next, for the new century: Back to the Moon; back to the future. And this time, back to stay. And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet: a manned mission to Mars.

George H.W. Bush, Address at the National Air and Space Museum, July 20, 1989

You are coming of age during a golden age of space, and there’s no better example of this than the miracle now orbiting 380 miles above Kingsville: the Hubble Space Telescope. It will see to the furthest reaches of the universe, to the very edges of time. It will, quite literally, even enable astronomers to see back in time, perhaps far enough back to when the Dallas Cowboys last had a winning season.

George H.W. Bush, Remarks at the Texas A&I University Commencement Ceremony in Kingsville , May 11, 1990

Clinton:

Like all discoveries, this one will and should continue to be reviewed, examined, and scrutinized. It must be confirmed by other scientists. But clearly, the fact that something of this magnitude is being explored is another vindication of America’s space program and our continuing support for it, even in these tough financial times. I am determined that the American space program will put it’s full intellectual power and technological prowess behind the search for further evidence of life on Mars.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Departure for San Jose, California, and an Exchange With Reporters, August 7, 1996

Bush 43:

Using the Crew Exploration Vehicle, we will undertake extended human missions to the moon as early as 2015, with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods. Eugene Cernan, who is with us today — the last man to set foot on the lunar surface — said this as he left: “We leave as we came, and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.” America will make those words come true.

George W. Bush, President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program, January 14, 2004

Bonus — Carter’s notes on UFO sighting:

Seemed to move toward us from a distance, stopped — moved partially away — returned, then departed. Bluish at first, then reddish, luminous, not solid.

Jimmy Carter, Report on Unidentified Flying Object(s), October, 1969

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  • MonteDavis

    Samqr, I like your choice of “framed” for JFK on the space race… because there was certainly a gap between that rhetoric and his Oval Office stance. In a 1962 tape released in 2001, he said to NASA administrator James Webb:

    “This is, whether we like it or not, a race. Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians…. [that] is the top priority of the agency and … except for defense, the top priority of the United States government. …Otherwise, we shouldn’t be spending this kind of money, because I’m not that interested in space…. I think it’s good [to explore space], I think we ought to know about it, we’re ready to spend reasonable amounts of money. But we’re talking about *fantastic* expenditures. We’ve wrecked our budget, and all the other domestic programs. And the only justification for it, in my opinion to do it [on this schedule] is because we hope to beat them, to demonstrate that starting behind, and we did, by a couple of years, by God, we passed them.”

    This isn’t new news; space historians such as John Logsdon, Howard McCurdy, and Roger Launius have spent decades unraveling some of the JFK-Apollo mythology. It goes too far to say Apollo was “nothing but” Cold War competition — all sorts of other motives were pulled in along the way — but it’s certainly true to say manned spaceflight wouldn’t have jumped ahead at anything like that pace *without* the competition.

  • Kennedy framed the space race as a matter of choosing an ambitious goal to prove

    our worth as a nation, (and not as a matter of competition). Nixon wanted to

    make space travel something routine, with clear practical benefits. Reagan saw

    space both as an avenue for international cooperation and as another front in

    the Cold War; and Clinton didn’t talk much about space until a chunk of Mars

    fell out of the sky. Where do you think President Bush’s latest address fits

    into this lineage?

    Bush 43’s speech hearkens back to Kennedy’s ambitious goals meme. Actually I can’t say it better than SF writer Ken MacLeod did at the time Bush announced VSE

    “I’ve just been interviewed for Wired News about George W. Bush’s speech at

    NASA, which I’d watched an hour or so earlier. I was flattered to be asked,

    and I hope Charlie Stross gave a better impression of an SF writer who is

    clued up on all this space rockets stuff. Seriously, I don’t follow space

    policy in any depth. I don’t, for example, know if Bush’s way of finding

    the money by shifting $11 billion worth of existing NASA priorities and

    giving the agency an extra $1 billion over five years is open-handed,

    tight-fisted, or cack-handed.

    I do know this. Watching it felt like science fiction coming true, and in a

    good way. Complete the space station. Replace the Shuttle. Build a Moon

    base. Learn more stuff. Go to Mars. And then what? Worlds beyond. A human

    presence across the Solar System. And then what? ‘Humanity is going out

    into the cosmos.’

    A feasible beginning, a reasonable progression, and no prospect of an end.

    This what the Space Age was supposed to be like.”

    Some context is in order – MacLeod is a Communist, and not just any Communist but (as near as I can tell) a Trot, and not just any Trot but a genuine 1970s style Scot Leftist. He is – in other words – far to the left of your average American Progressive. It would belabor the point if I pointed out that he holds no love for President Bush.

    Yet he doesn’t let politics get in the way of what matters. Astounding.

  • I was as thrilled as anyone watching the first astronauts land on the moon. More recently I was awed by those incredible photographs of the rings of Saturn. It’s not that I’m against space exploration but today it does seem, not only like an extravagance we can ill afford, but a distraction from more critical issues at hand. Like, maybe we should make sure that our space travelers have a habital planet to come back to? With the issue of global warming looming large spending money on going into space seems kind of like deciding to go camping because you just don’t want to deal with the fact that your house is on fire.

    As a communist of course I’m compelled to point out that as long as one single child on this Earth goes hungry spending even a single dime on space exploration is shameful.

  • rc21

    Maybe with increased development in space travel we may one day find a place that is condusive to farming and the mass production of food.

    If this happens we may be able to feed the hungry. By the way last time I checked people in N. Korea and various other communist style govts in Africa are starving. If your concerned about the hungry I have no idea why you would embrace communism.

  • Tom B

    Some statements are an expression of policy and an attempt to marshall resources in support of coordinated efforts. Others are ‘hot air’ designed to improve one’s image or to win a few votes…. Bush’s fall into category two. — Those wanting to buy tickets to Mars might be better advised to wait on Trent Lott’s front porch and watch the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast (Those interested in reading Bush’s words including his pledge that “we will not just rebuild, we will build higher and better” might read the entire speech here: http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/09/15/bush.transcript .)

  • As a communist of course I’m compelled to point out that as long as one single child on this Earth goes hungry spending even a single dime on space exploration is shameful.

    Ah, the moral high ground. Do keep in mind that hungry children are best fed by a wealthy society; poor people don’t have time or energy to spend on charity.

    And what is the best way to create wealth, then?