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?


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


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


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


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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