The space program is one of President John F. Kennedy's great legacies but he privately fretted that putting a man on the moon was not much more than a "stunt," according to a secretly recorded Oval Office conversation finally going public Wednesday.
"But this looks like a hell of a lot of dough to go to the moon when you can go -- you can learn most of that you want scientifically through instruments and putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn't worth that many billions," Kennedy told James Webb, the head of NASA, on Sept. 18, 1963, just over two months before the president was assassinated in Dallas.
The tape is being released on Wednesday's 50th anniversary of Kennedy's speech to Congress in which he set out a moon landing as a goal to be achieved within the decade. The May 25, 1961, address came soon after Alan Shepard Jr. became the first American launched into space on May 5, 1961, following a similar Soviet feat on April 12, 1961.
But much of the patriotic fervor about space, fueled by Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, had dissipated by late 1963, at least in the mind of Kennedy, who was seeing huge expenditures as a political negative. The tape of his conversation with Webb is being released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on its website.