JFK Moon Order
Grady's Space Chronicles
Moon Order - JFK
- President Kennedy Visits MSFC, Gives Moon Order
On Tuesday, September 11, 1962, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, arrived on Air Force One at the Redstone Arsenal Air Strip at 10:35 AM. The President’s visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center reason was to give an order to the Rocket Team in person and to visit the facilities.
It was a warm sunny day and 438 German Rocket Scientists, engineers (me included) and with special invited local City, County, State, Washington representatives to welcome President Kennedy, his family, staff and British scientists. The President had with him, the first lady Jacqueline, his two children Caroline and John Jr. “John John”, the kids’ Nanny, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, NASA Administrator James Webb and the British leading rocket scientist Dr. Jerome Wiesner.
Local welcoming representatives were Senator John Sparkman, Huntsville’s Mayor Speck Searcy, Dr. von Braun and the German Rocket Team including other Marshall Space Flight Center’s (MSFC) leading engineers and managers. A reviewing stand and chairs were set up next to the Airstrip’s hanger and office building on the tarmac with Air Force One in the background. A band was playing and things were appearing to be a very important event. The President had come to give an order to the MSFC Rocket Center employees in person. After things got settled down and all those present had found their seats, we all stood and the Army Band played. Washington’s representatives were seated on the right side of the stand, the local representatives were on the left and the President with his family seated in the center behind the Presidential Seal Podium.
The first speaker, the Mayor of Huntsville who welcomed the visitors followed Dr. von Braun and Senator Sparkman introduced the President. The President recognized those present and thanked them for coming to the event.
“I am delighted to be here and I’m particularly delighted to be here on this occasion,” the President said. “Recently, in a join speech to the U.S. Congress, I told them about my dream of putting an American on the Moon. People asked, “Why should we place a man on the moon?” If history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, weather we join in or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.” President Kennedy said.
“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it-we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we will not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by an banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.” the President expressly stated.
All eyes and ears were glued to the President, for this day has been an eternity coming for these great German Rocket Scientist, with all of the hardships they have endured. President Kennedy spoke with his eyes upon each face in the crowd and everyone knew he was speaking directly to them, as on a one to one level. Just as the President was well into his delivery, John John, got loose from his Nanny and was playing on the stand steps, jumping up and down on them and swinging on the hand rails making load noises. No one tried to quit him, even though he was disturbing, we had to endure John John’s three year old mischief. We were not about to miss one word of the President’s order.
“Yet, the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation,” said the President. “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. It’s hazards are hostile to us all conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many 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. 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.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the President. I am asking this Rocket Team to place a man on the moon in this decade. I want it, the Congress wants it and the American people want it.” President Kennedy said. Dr. von Braun responded and thanked the President and accepted the challenge saying, “We will put a man on the moon this decade.” The Band played as everyone was leaving. The President’s car departed with a following convoy.
It was after twelve noon, when everyone got away. We rushed to our Labs to get ready for the President’s visit to see our facilities and a Saturn C-1 static firing. We in the Manufacturing Engineering Lab had an awesome display set up in our Missile Assembly Building 4705 for the President and his dignitaries.
The German Rocket Team members and all of the MSFC attendees were elated with smiles and handshakes. Finely, since 1927, the Team will build a rocket not intended for War but for space exploring of the new frontier. Excitement fell on the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, State and America.
Four years after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik shock of 1957 greatly embarrassing us, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States “catch up to and overtake” the Russians in the space race. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. After consulting with Johnson, Webb, Dr. von Braun and others, that landing an American on the moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead because of having the famed German Rocket Team.
The enormous human efforts and expenditures for the Apollo Program would rank with the construction of the Panama Canal, the Manhattan Project were comparable. The Apollo was designed to execute Kennedy’s goal. CIA reports were circulated often in MSFC to inform everyone how the Russians were progressing, a move to energize the workers.
President Kennedy Promised the United States would let a man walk on the moon before the decade was out. Then, almost nobody believed him, except the German Rocket Team was very serious about taking the order from the Commanding Chief, and completing the project before the decade was out. During the Building 4705 tour, the British expert, Dr. Jerome Wiesner, and Dr. von Braun argued. The British wanted to directly hit the moon’s broadside with a Nova rocket and Dr. von Braun had select a lunar orbit and descend to the surface of the moon. To end the argument, President Kennedy turns and said, “Show me something else!”
The next morning, activity was wide spread at MSFC. Meetings and conferences were taking place. Every aspects of the Saturn 5 vehicle was being reviewed and status reports compiled. Developing a schedule for the massive moon rocket was given the priority. A meeting was held in the Manufacturing Engineering Lab the following day and I was given the task to develop a Master Schedule Plan to place an American on the moon. The entire staff of the MSFC was beaming with joy and some concerns at the same time. The Rocket Team took command and orders were followed intensely. The President was pleased with the progress and offered his support to Dr. von Braun in the coming years. The President was killed on November 22, 1963, and didn’t see his dream come true. On July 20, 1969, an American walked on the moon.