We all learned that President John F. Kennedy launched the U.S. effort to land the first men on 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,” he famously stated in his Rice University speech in 1962.
But in a span of a year, Kennedy came to have second thoughts on the Apollo program as costs rose, budgets exploded and the scientific value of a moon mission came under question. In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 1963, Kennedy actually made a bold statement that is seldom repeated: he suggested that the U.S. and Soviet Union could work together to reach the moon.
That was some proposal, considering that both nations, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons capable of destroying humanity several times over, were in the deepest freeze of the cold war. The Cuban missile crisis, the closest the world has ever been to a nuclear conflict, happened just 11 months prior.
Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, however, ended any prospects for a joint mission to the moon, paving the way for Neil Armstrong to take his small step in 1969.
Science journalist and space historian Amy Shira Teitel recounts this little-known tidbit in the September edition of her monthly video post on space history. It’s fascinating and eye-opening.
Scientific American blog posts by Amy Shira Teitel: