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John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon Hardcover – Dec 15 2010
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'Echoes of this time lift off the pages of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, a new book by John M. Logsdon, a political scientist and longtime space policy specialist at George Washington University. He has drawn on new research in archives, oral histories and memoirs available in recent years to shed new light on the moon race.' The New York Times 'Some say that Kennedy conceived of the race to the moon principally to recover from the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs. John Logsdon, the doyen of American space studies, takes a more generous view in his new book Kennedy was not especially interested in space, and said as much in private. But after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit he believed it to be vital for America to take on and beat the Soviets at something very hard. The moon fitted this need like a glove. Planting a man on its surface required no big technological innovations, says Mr. Logsdon, 'just very expensive mastery over nature using the scientific and technological knowledge available in 1961.' The Economist
'Logsdon charts the evolution of JFK's thinking about space including repeated offers as president to cooperate with the Soviets from his senatorial career up until the assassination. He chronicles the intergovernmental struggle for consensus and highlights the policymaking contributions of presidential aide Ted Sorensen, science advisor Jerome Wiesner, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and NASA administrator James Webb.' Kirkus
'For the inside facts about JFK's instigation of the lunar missions, Logsdon, often seen in documentaries and television news about space, is the definitive authority.' Booklist
'A new account by John Logsdon, an eminent historian of the space program.' The Washington Monthly
'The Apollo story has been told many times, but Logsdon's analysis provides a welcome reexamination of the motives, rationales, and political infighting that characterized the Kennedy administration's space policies. Recommended.' CHOICE
'In a time when America is looking for another 'Sputnik Moment' to spur the country on a number of fronts, this scholarly and well-written look at the nation's 'Apollo Moment' captures presidential decision-making stemming from the heat of the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Readers will find this book a treasured resource. Logsdon's devotion to this book is visible through and through including an invaluable and insightful set of notes for each chapter. Beyond the U.S. President, you'll find a landscape of people that also helped shape that 'one small step' off planet. A must-read.' The Coalition for Space Exploration
'John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon is informed not only by Logsdon's first book but by 40 years of his own and others' scholarship and in that regard it sets the new gold standard for all academics who study space not just on Kennedy and the initiation of the space race but on how the complex decisions governing the American space program have often depended on the intersection of chance, opportunity, political motive, and cold-hearted, cost-benefit analysis rather than dreamy aspirations 'to boldly go where no man has gone before.'' Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly
'In John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, historian John Logsdon examines the political forces that shaped space policy in the tragically brief tenure of the Kennedy Administration. Logsdon is returning to familiar ground: in 1970 he published The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest, one of the first books to examine the rationale for embarking on such a risky, expensive endeavor. Why revisit the topic now? As Logsdon notes in the book's preface, a lot of key documents from that era have been released in the intervening years; the 1970 book had been based primarily on interviews with key players and secondary sources, with the research mostly completed prior to Apollo 11 itself. And, just as important, the perspective that four decades of distance provides offers a new perspective on the events of that era and their aftermath.' The Space Review
'A comprehensive and insightful retrospect of the conception and early days of Project Apollo. Space aficionados will see immediate parallels between President Kennedy's thought processes and the space policy debates of today.' Neil Armstrong, Commander, Apollo 11
'In contrast to the hesitations, reconsiderations, and cancellations that have plagued recent U.S. activities in space, President John F. Kennedy's shining May 25, 1961, challenge to send humans to the Moon remains a beacon of national resolve. John M. Logsdon's review of the whole history of President Kennedy's civil space policy, especially events after the May 25 speech, reveals the special circumstances that kept the lunar goal on track. Hesitation arose, but Kennedy's pragmatism ultimately prevailed. Logsdon explains why. With this insightful analysis, Logsdon demonstrates again why he remains the dean of space policy historians.' Howard E. McCurdy, Professor of Public Policy, American University and University of Washington, and author of Space and the American Imagination
'John Logsdon's book is a high quality scholarly work, deeply researched, but also an easy read. It is an insightful history of JFK's decision to use the space program and especially the Apollo lunar landing project as a rational Cold War response to the perceived 'missile gap' and the Soviet space challenges of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin's flight.' Bill Anders, Astronaut, Apollo 8, and Executive Secretary, National Aeronautics and Space Council, 1969-1972
'One of the definitive political histories of the quest to put a man on the Moon.' Matthew Brzezinski, author of Red Moon Rising
'John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon provides a comprehensive, insider's account of one of the most important and far-reaching policy decisions of the Kennedy administration. It is a masterful case study of presidential decision making.' Professor Steven J. Wayne, Presidential Scholar, Georgetown University
'An extraordinary book on the genesis of Project Apollo . . . Indeed, the first clear and definitive account of the pivotal role played by John F. Kennedy in shaping the American space program. How President Kennedy reached his fateful decision to enter the space race to reach the Moon is now told fully in an insightful and authoritative way.' Von Hardesty, Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
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What was the real reason the United States went to the Moon?
It boils down to the mistaken perception that because the Soviet Union had a rocket capable of lifting more weight, they also had a nuclear weapon capable of inflicting more damage than any American counterpart. This was totally wrong; the truth was the Soviets built a much heavier device because they didn't have American technology to build it lighter.
But when the USSR launched Sputnik I and II in 1957, and subsequent launches in the late 1950s that placed in orbit heavier payloads than U.S. capability at the time, Americans panicked and mistakenly assumed this meant the Soviets could hit the U.S. with a bigger bomb than anything in the U.S. arsenal. President Eisenhower knew better and therefore didn't give space launches much of a priority. Project Mercury, begun under the Eisenhower administration in 1958, was intended to put a single man in space, but beyond that there was no real plan or intent to explore, much less go to the Moon. It was primarily research to determine if a human could survive in space flight, most likely for military purposes because it was assumed the Soviets would probably do the same.
Enter John F. Kennedy, an ambitious presidential candidate. JFK accused the Eisenhower administration of a "missile gap" (apparently JFK or his speechwriter coined the phrase) and used that as part of his 1960 campaign as the Democratic candidate against Eisenhower's vice-president, Richard Nixon, who was the Republican candidate. When Kennedy won, he inherited the "missile gap" although it didn't really exist -- yet he was partially responsible for creating that perception.
As Logsdon writes, JFK gave space a very low priority in the early months of his administration. He directed Vice-President Lyndon Johnson to come up with alternatives that would give the U.S. the ability to show the world they had surpassed the USSR in payload lift technology. After consulting with JFK's science advisor, NASA, the Pentagon and others, the consensus was that the U.S. couldn't catch the USSR for quite some time -- unless they chose a new playing field where the Soviets didn't have the lead.
And that was a manned lunar mission.
There was no intelligence data suggesting that the Soviets had a rocket capable of lifting the weight necessary to send a man to the moon. So the idea became to take the military Saturn rocket program and build upon it for a lunar mission.
When the Soviets orbited Yuri Gagarin, that clinched it. JFK believed he had to top this achievement, hence the May 1961 proposing the lunar mission.
Logsdon's book makes it quite clear that JFK was no space visionary. His sole objective was to show the world that American technology was superior to the Soviet Union, measured by superior payload lift capability. In fact, when he visited Cape Canaveral six days before his death, Kennedy learned that the Saturn I would be the first rocket with lift capability superior to the USSR. He made it very clear to NASA and his staff they were to publicize this achievement as much as possible.
A recording exists of a heated discussion JFK had in November 1962 with NASA administrator James Webb, Bureau of the Budget staff and others. Webb was asking for more money to do other things than just Apollo. Kennedy replied, "I'm not that interested in space" and reiterated that his objective was to demonstrate superior U.S. technology, measured by lift capability, demonstrated by placing a man on the moon.
Logsdon's book should be required reading for any member of Congress who sits on a space subcommittee. For 40 years, we've dreamed of an Apollo rerun, yet Apollo was a political fluke based on a confluence of events unlikely to repeat any time soon. Our former competitors are now are space colleagues. There's no political will to spend 5% of the federal budget on space, especially in an era of trillion-dollar annual federal deficits. Most members of Congress, if they care at all about space, are primarily intested in directing pork to their districts.
We need a fundamentally new approach to space exploration. The Obama administration's commerical space approach is, in my opinion, the right answer, but that's beyond the scope of this book. But Logsdon's book is a must-read for those who mistakently believe that all it takes is for a President to march into Congress and propose a fantastic space stunt, and the dollars will flow. That's a fantasy, as today's politics show. If Congress wanted a space stunt, they would fund it themselves. JFK himself had serious doubts about the Moon program, and three times in 1963 he ordered reviews re-evaluating the wisdom of the program. So rather than waiting for a fancy speech or the members of Congress to think beyond their own self-interest, let's find a new model and leave the JFK legacy in the past.
There is a lack of pictures, a few black and white are scattered through the text, more would have been of great interest. This book adds new material to his 1970 work, `The Decision to go to the Moon'.
He does not miss pointing out that there was not too much interest on Kennedy's part in space or NASA before his election or in the beginning of his term in office.
Much of the book tells of the political appointments and political maneuvering that went on in creating the decisions regarding the space program. Technical and political activities, with the background of world events, give the steps that led to the decision to go to the moon. The memorandums and the ideas of NASA officials and scientists are explained, as well as comparisons of world reactions to Soviet space flights and the `openness' of America's and the `humility' of American astronauts.
Included is the not well remembered, less than enthusiastic reception of Kennedy's "we choose to go the the moon" speech in front of congress.
The speeches given in congress in 1961 and the one in 1962 at Rice University are often confused and even melded together. Logsdon clears up those ideas and famous phrases.
What is missing from the seemingly all inclusive gathering of information are the reactions and general opinions of the American people.
Semi-technical discussions of the type of craft needed to be used for the lunar lander and lunar orbit versus earth orbit rendezvous are included. Task force reports and the questioning and criticisms of the amount of money spent on space and especially the program to land a man on the moon are well and thoroughly covered.
For those interested in space, the political machinations and the debates on where facilities would be located and are fascinated with details of the space program; they will find this book very much to their liking.
When JFK became president in 1961, Americans were in a state of continuing humiliation from being behind the Soviet's in space. Americans had believed that they would launch the first satellite, but then, unexpectedly, the Soviets launched the tiny Sputnik 1, and then followed with Sputnik 2, which was far more massive. This was disconcerting because there is little difference between a space booster and a missile.
At first, JFK's concern was closing the booster gap, but then, when the Soviets launched the first man into space, he recognized the darker side of this string of Soviet space achievements: loss of prestige for the US. Prestige means influence and in a world increasingly divided between East and West, the US could not afford to be second in space.
The heat was on; the public was fired up to outdo the Soviets; congress was ready to spend. JFK waited until after the first American was successfully lofted into space before making his request in May 1961 before Congress and the television audience: ".. I believe we should go to the moon."
This is a densely detailed book - as much about the people as about the foundation of the Apollo program. You will find bruised egos, feelings of neglect, funding threats, rancor over the size of the booster, wrangling over the flight architecture, heated arguments for a crash program, or for a slow down, or for spending the money on public works instead . . . . Launching a project to go to the moon was hardly easy.
That being stated, the book is a fascinating examination of why and how Kennedy elevated the country's semi-stagnant manned space program into a program with the highest national priority. It tracks how Kennedy picked a moon landing over several other space related programs; how he made certain that this program would not be DOA in Congress and would get the funding to fast track it. It is interesting to note that Kennedy was the only president to back his choice of space program with adequate funding, something George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush failed to do when they unveiled their now defunct Manned Mars Mission initiatives.
Logsdon also describes how Kennedy's science advisor, Jerome Wiesner, attempted (almost single-handedly) to force NASA to rescind their publically-announced choice of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous technique to get to and land on the moon, in favor of his favored Earth Orbit Rendezvous technique. Wiesner gave in after three months of heated discussions and NASA was finally free to proceed with LOR.
The books also addresses Kennedy's offer to the Soviet Union of landing on the moon together. This is a fascinating "what if" topic that can be discussed ad infinitum ad nausem. But in the end, after the November 1963 event in Dallas, it is all speculation.
As one reads this excellent book, the irony of Kennedy's lack of real interest in space exploration vs that he is so identified with the United States' most singular accomplishment of the second half of the 20th century, cannot be ignored.
John has a wonderful way of telling a story, choosing his words carefully and delivering them with an unvarnished honesty that is both refreshing and illuminating. He chooses facts and painstaking detail, leaving personal agendas and creative writing exercises to others. This book is a stark view of the proverbial "sausage making process" in D.C. and reveals just how close we were to taking a different direction...or none at all. To me it underscores how much NASA was able to manage its image and the public's perception, and resultant support, of the program in an era devoid of the 24 hour news cycle.
If you're like me, a child and fan of the halcyon days of human space exploration, your memories and historic perspective are truly incomplete without reading John's book. It's a quick, fascinating read deserving of a place in your library.
Lifelong Space Enthusiast
Member and Chairman of the Board, The Planetary Society
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