Wednesday, May 25, 2011

50 years ago---Kennedy announces decision to go to the moon,


                                            ``I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving
                                               the goal before the decade is out of landing a man on the
                                               moon and returning him safely to earth..''

                                               John F.Kennedy at a special joint session of the Congress on
                                               May 25 ,1961.

                   Though US space and defence experts, policy planners and politicians had been exploring the possibility of a human lunar landing, it was this historic speech by President John F.Kennedy which finally  resulted in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally setting foot on the moon on July 20,1969.

                   The famous speech which triggered a lot of applause in the Congress, was a part of what one may call a space triad in a span of one-and-a-half months which began with Yuri Gagarin's flight on April 12,1961, followed by the less spectacular 15-minute sub orbital mission by US astronaut, Alan Shepherd on May 5 1961 and then finally Kennedy's speech about sending a man to the moon on May 25,1961.

                   Having suffered a number of space defeats in the hands of the Russians, Kennedy was hell bent on embarking on space mission which will make the US a world space leader. He was convinced that the only mission which can do this was the one which will take the first humans to the moon. Clearly, by Kennedy's own admission it was more of a political exercise, rather than a scientific, engineering or technological feat.

                   The story goes that on that day, at a number of US aerospace establishments the employees listened to the speech during their lunch break. When they heard the dramatic announcement they gathered in groups to speculate and discuss what would be the next step in flying an American to the moon. It was a moment of excitement, apprehension, serious introspection and thrill. Their country was about to embark on a great adventure started by  Kennedy and they were going to be a part of it. The question was will they succeed? The programme was called Apollo which has since become a household word.

                   For India the speech has relevance, because this country's  maiden mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1, took a number of pictures of the Apollo landing sites on the lunar surface.

                   ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' is reading a book called ``JFK And The Race To The Moon,'' by John Logsdon. (More about this book in a later blog). It makes a very heavy reading and is a scholarly work. It has to be read slowly because it is like a thesis. On reading the book, atleast BMM gets the impression that the real father of the American manned lunar mission were none of the Americans, but a Russian. Any guess who it can be?.

                    You will be surprised to hear who it is in BMM's judgement. It is Yuri Gagarin! Any reason why? The answer is simple. If Gagarin had not embarked on his flight on April 12,1961, the possibilities are that the Americans would have taken their own time to do a human lunar mission. According to the book, the original plan envisaged sending an American to space in March 1961 before Gagarin.

                   But, then there was some opposition to it particularly from the docs who were unsure as to how humans would react in space. Gagarin's flight proved that the docs were once again wrong in their analysis and their fears had only resulted in the US once again losing to the Russian in the space arena.The message: it is sometimes necessary take the advice given by docs with a pinch of salt!!!!!!

                   Though the hall in which Kennedy spoke reveberated to the applause of the audience every now and then, Kennedy was reported to have remarked while coming out of he Capitol in Washington DC that he found the response less enthusiastic.

                   The speech followed Kennedy making frantic attempts to embark on a joint US-Soviet manned mission to the moon. He spoke to Khruschev directly, emphasised this during an address at the UN General Assembly, tried through various diplomatic channels and other routes.

                    Though the Apollo-Soyuz project was a success, a joint manned landing on the moon did not materialise.



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