On May , 1961, President Kennedy laid the Soviet challenge before the American people. He urged the nation to commit itself to the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the decade was out. The president’s message suggested the reasons underlying this recommendation: we faced the gloomy prospect of standing second to the U.S.S.R. in manned flight for years to come; the manned lunar landing would be the first major space achievement in which the U.S. effort could reach its full strength; a vigorous effort could achieve a manned lunar landing by the end of this decade; and if the United States set 1970 as its target date for the lunar landing, it would have a good chance to reach this goal before the U.S.S.R.
President Kennedy asked for a careful examination of the proposed commitment: “I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment … There is no sense in agreeing, or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens.”
In July 1961, the Congress voted overwhelmingly for the funds requested to move the space program into high gear. In 1962 Congress reaffirmed its support by doubling the budget of the previous year. Now, in 1963, we see the substantial fruits of our increased labors in space. The manned-flight program is rapidly advancing through its intermediate objectives toward the milestone of the lunar landing. The space-flight program as a whole has produced a great volume of scientific research, as well as economically important applications to weather forecasting and communications.
At the same time, the Russians continue to show great vigor in their man-in-space program. The single-orbit flight of Gagarin was followed rapidly by [Gherman] Titov’s 17-orbit mission, by other multi-orbit flights, and by the formidable accomplishment of a near rendezvous between pairs of cosmonauts. The Soviet science program in space has also been stepped up to a high level after a lull of some years, with 18 Kosmos scientific satellites, a lunar probe, and a Mars probe launched during the last year. There appears to be no letup in the Soviet space challenge to the United States.
What, then, is the basis for the questioning of the commitment to the expanded U.S. space program?
THOUGHTFUL critics, concerned over the allocation of limited national resources, ask whether this is a good way in which to spend funds that might otherwise be used for the betterment of man’s lot on the surface of the Earth. Could some of the money going into space research be diverted into other programs of public interest—medical research, education, housing, technical aid to emerging nations—a variety of projects contributing to the welfare of our society?