GRAPHIC DESIGN BY DAVID WILCOCK
By Richard C. Hoagland
What was John Fitzgerald Kennedy really thinking?
That ringing declaration in support of “Project Apollo” -- now almost a half century old -- is, of course, John Kennedy’s most controversial legacy; a President faced with unprecedented Earthly challenges at the same time that he was proposing the 20th Century’s most extraordinary political and technological undertaking: an actual human journey to the Moon!
If you think you know “why” President Kennedy committed this Nation to undertake a project so expensive, so unprecedented … so obviously “irrelevant” to Earthly human needs in a time of major crises… you need to think again; by the time you finish reading, I guarantee that your opinion re the urgent relevance of “Apollo” – if not all of NASA – to a range of current crises, will never be the same.
We forget (those of us who know it happened – to be differentiated from those among us who find it so unimaginably difficult in retrospect, that they actually believe it never COULD have happened …) how audacious Kennedy’s proposal really was, for 1961; such things had barely moved off the funny pages even then, from “Dick Tracy and his Mooncar” to “Buck Rogers” … and here was a President of the United States proposing that Americans could – should! -- actually “go to the Moon!”
Kennedy’s pressing terrestrial problems involved not only an escalating Cold War, with an ever more menacing arch-enemy from the 1950’s, the Soviet Union -- which threatened to go “hot” at any moment, ultimately ending the world in literal nuclear annihilation (and almost did, in October, 1962) – but equally grave challenges at home: growing crises of long-standing racial inequality, chronic unemployment, regional economic stagnation, lagging educational opportunities, outright urban collapse in certain major American cities -- and even the basic inefficiencies of government itself (in its ability – then, as now -- to apparently DO anything about these daunting, growing issues …).
In accepting his Democratic Party’s 1960 nomination for the presidency, Kennedy boldly called his initiatives to confront these major challenges, “The New Frontier”—
And, just as a palpable hunger exists now for fundamental
“change” -- to successfully confront, after decades of political
“gridlock,” our own rising geopolitical and domestic problems
-- so Kennedy’s “New Frontier’ was his answer to the
equally daunting international and domestic crises of his day, starting
with outcompeting an entire, highly organized international “political
religion” -- communism -- which threatened to not only physical
attack this Nation with nuclear weapons without warning, but ultimately,
threatened to “seduce and then enslave” billions of impoverished
peoples also seeking new opportunities and hope around the world.
At the time however, because of stubborn Republican (and conservative Democratic) opposition, particularly to strong domestic “change,” John Kennedy himself did not live to see most of his New Frontier enacted; the majority of Kennedy’s economic and social reforms were only passed and implemented by Congress after his assassination … championed by his own Vice-President and successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson -- who promptly renamed Kennedy’s New Frontier “The Great Society.”
As a young man growing up in the midst of Kennedy’s heady revolution, who’s family had experienced first-hand the negative effects of the racial discrimination endemic in the 1950’s, who himself had to overcome a definite lack of governmental educational assistance to achieve his own hopes and dreams, it’s probably no great secret to this audience which program of Kennedy’s “New Frontier” reached out and touched my life – and, as I will demonstrate, ultimately the lives of everyone -- in a most profound and unique fashion:
The Space Program.
To a kid who discovered “science fiction” at the age of ten, where “the impossible” was repeatedly just a page turn away, the idea in my early teens that an actual, elected President of the United States was going to send human beings to the surface of another world – and “before this decade is out …” -- was unimaginably inspiring; I mean, what could NOT be accomplished … if a young President could actually make that happen!?
Who else could then have imagined that, just a few years later, at the tender age of 23, that man would find himself actually advising “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, and, at the Tiffany Network, CBS, on John Kennedy’s most far-reaching New Frontier vision – “Project Apollo” -- human beings sent specifically to leave “American footprints”—
On the surface of another world!
In retrospect, the most frustrating experiences I probably had as I attempted to carry out my “mission” at CBS -- advising a major television network on the science, as well as historical context, of this extraordinary 20th Century Presidential vision -- was the deep cynicism over, and repeated lack of fundamental comprehension of, “Project Apollo” … not only among my network colleagues at CBS, but in ALL the major media covering the Moon landings! No matter what I said, in trying to explain the deeper societal and historical implications behind President Kennedy’s commitment to Apollo (like, his September 20, 1963 address to the United Nations -- where the President publically revealed for the first time that the United States was considering going to the Moon with the Russians!), all the producers that I worked with or met, all the network correspondents … even the veteran “print” reporters, who had covered space from the beginning … all stubbornly refused to see any “greater meaning” to what we all were covering; in their minds, stripped of the surficial glamour of “landing on another planet” … Kennedy’s Moon Program was simply the misdirected, almost irrelevant (and VERY expensive …) legacy of “a Cold War obsessed President.”
In recent years, in a broader policy assessment of Apollo, several writers have come to somewhat different conclusions: that, Kennedy’s surprising commitment to an aggressive manned spaceflight program in the 1960’s did lead to some equally surprisingly positive economic and social impacts on those other, simultaneous domestic challenges at home. W. Henry Lambright, Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at Syracuse University, has written an excellent profile of James E. Webb, Kennedy’s hand-picked NASA Administrator (and the man directly responsible for Apollo’s stunning political and technological success) -- called “Powering Apollo.” In the book, Lambright describes one of Webb’s own major long-range visions for NASA’s impact on society, beyond the space program:
As immediate down payment on this “regional economic development strategy,” even as Apollo was being formulated, Webb deliberately placed NASA’s most massive and heavily-funded facilities in the South – in a thousand-mile-long swath from Texas, through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, into Florida.
According to Lambright, writing in “Managing America to the Moon”:
Paraphrasing University of York sociologist, Brian Woods’ independent, 2003 analysis of several key Webb decisions in those early NASA years--
This deliberate placement of several major NASA facilities and research centers in the South, also gave the federal government – armed with non-discriminatory hiring standards, and a fundamental economic lever – an ability to directly influence racial discrimination, through enforced hiring practices at NASA (and among its NASA contractors …), all across this “southern crescent.”
As part of this collateral, specific, long-range plan for “positive domestic impact” from the space program, Webb also created the NASA “Sustaining University Program [SUP]” -- which heavily funded research facilities on campuses during the 1960s across the nation (but, again, especially in the South), seeking to replenish the national ranks of scientists and engineers (on which NASA’s own short-term success heavily depended) through local fellowships and grants. In this way, Webb hoped someday to harness local colleges and universities to other public goals and national problem-solving tasks … long after the successful completion of Apollo.
Much has been said and written about the unquantifiable aspects of Apollo – the so-called “student inspiration factor.” Needless to say, I’m a prime example; without John Kennedy’s clear call to “leave this planet for another world” – if only for a few days -- I have no doubt that my own life would have been significantly different ….
Others have also tried to grapple with this intangible … and have failed to greater or lesser degrees; how can you put a number on the ability of an idea … an “impossible dream” … to lift a kid above “the mundane,” to power him or her through life with the realistic hope that they can accomplish something previously thought “impossible” in their own lives, by getting a better education, by getting that first job … or, by literally “reaching for the stars?!”
But, that doesn’t mean you stop trying ….
In the early 1990's, two decades after my unique “Apollo/CBS experience,” I had the privilege of bringing together a team of local volunteers in the development of a "space-age" education project called “The Enterprise Mission” -- deliberately set amid the mostly minority population of an inner-city school (Dunbar Senior High, just off Capitol Hill) in downtown Washington D.C.
The experiment was built around the concept of "student involvement in real-time mission planning and data acquisition," during various NASA exploratory missions -- such as "Hubble," and the ill-fated "Mars Observer"; translation – using the famed “Starship Enterprise” and her multi-racial crew as “the model” (from my long association and friendship with Gene Roddenberry, and my advising “Star Trek”), and a direct connection with NASA -- we created at Dunbar the first multi-disciplinary “starship,” to--
“Boldly go where no students had gone before …!”
Starting as an after school extracurricular activity, and using donated computers from several manufacturers across the country as well as official NASA imaging-enhancement software, "The Enterprise Mission" and "becoming a crew member of the 'U.S.S. Dunbar'" eventually became an accredited course in the Dunbar magnet school curriculum. Over the years, scores of senior NASA Headquarters and Goddard Space Flight Center personnel enthusiastically participated in the program, including installation of a student satellite data link direct to NASA-Goddard, and on-site briefing of the “student crew” by actual NASA engineers, management personnel and scientists attached to various on-going NASA missions.
In 1991, then-NASA Administrator Admiral Richard Truly and education advocate, First Lady Barbara Bush, both came to Dunbar for personal briefings by the “crew” of the “USS Dunbar”; in the waning moments of a world without the Internet, the students took the initiative to even locate the proper protocols for “piping a Navy Admiral aboard a starship” -- and greeted Admiral Truly (to his surprise …) with the appropriate full honors ….
This remarkable experiment -- the original "ENTERPRISE Mission" -- was ultimately nominated for a White House "Point of Light" award for “outstanding contributions to education.”
Students want to be inspired by their education; in fact, they need to be. The simple statistics tell the story: over 7000 students, nationwide, drop out of school every day; over 1.2 million each year do not return to graduate with their own peers. The majority readily admit that the single, overriding reason is—
Our experience in Washington was a real eye-opener in this regard; in an inner-city school, in a city where the murder rate rocketed in 1991 to the highest in the Nation, where -- when we said goodnight, we couldn’t help wondering which student might literally be shot in a drive-by before returning to school the next morning – and in a physical school building constantly guarded by metal detectors, security guards and daily hand-gun searches … one thing became overwhelmingly apparent:
The students immediately “got” what we were doing.
As we began, still surrounded by hanging wires and gaping ceiling panels, we knew we were “on to something” when several members of the “crew,” totally unasked, showed up on that first weekend, volunteering to help us literally build our “starship” (converting a former storage area into the future “Briefing Room of the USS Dunbar”). We were even more convinced when the kids kept showing up, even during holidays, to help us finish all the installations.
Then, when we began conducting actual “daily briefings” – after school, mind you -- on “the relationships between the daily school curriculum (history, science, English …) and various events occurring in the news, viewed from around the world live on their own NASA satellite dish …” we, regrettably, had to actually turn some students away!
Conceived before the Internet made most of the things we dreamed up really practical (like, the ability to look up ANY data “in the ship’s computer” – i.e. on the Net -- during an actual “briefing” ; the ability to communicate with student “away teams” via live television, literally a world away; the ability to combine “exercises” taking place on the “USS Dunbar” with those of other “student crews” on other “starships” ... anywhere on Earth .. or, someday, off it!), the experience unmistakably showed our Dunbar “crew” what the future of education could someday be--
If “educators” took their heads out of the sand, and decided to listen to what students have to say about their own, increasingly boring, irrelevant – and failing -- educational institutions!
All confirmed by the emotional letters I’ve received over the years since, from the Dunbar students themselves … who participated in – and still remember -- our pioneering “voyages.” All affirming that, even in this first “primitive” incarnation … The Enterprise Mission truly made a difference in their lives ….
The larger lesson here is also blatantly apparent: students need to dream “big dreams,” they need to see that the future -- both their own, and that of their society … their entire world, in fact – can realistically be better than today ….
And, they need to see how – if properly equipped and motivated -- they too can play a meaningful role in making that future come about … even if their school is in the middle of a “war zone,” in downtown Washington DC!
Jeffrey Bennett is also an educator, with a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of California at San Diego, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, currently specializing in mathematics and science education. Shortly after President George Bush announced his “Return to the Moon ... and on to Mars” Program for NASA and the Nation, in 2004, Jeff Bennett published an Op-Ed piece in the Denver Post.
Here is Jeff’s independent attempt to quantify this crucial “inspiration factor”—
“… the future depends on it ….”
For those used to thinking in such “grand terms,” like President Kennedy (and his best-known alter-ego and speech writer, Ted Sorenson), it must have been apparent early on that a call to do something as “encompassing and impossible” as Apollo, couldn’t help but have much broader, long-term social consequences. There is now hard evidence that this – and NOT a mere “short-term propaganda win” over the Soviet Union -- was what Kennedy actually expected to achieve by championing Apollo ... exactly as I argued to my colleagues in the network all those years ago!
At our recent Enterprise Mission Washington DC National Press Club briefing on “the hidden discoveries and benefits of the space program,” we revealed White House, State Department and NASA memos that now prove that my efforts at CBS to explain Kennedy’s ringing call to send humans to the Moon, as something “far MORE than merely Cold War competition” were, in fact, correct! These documents now clearly demonstrate that -- despite all that has been drummed into us for the last 40 or so years in terms of the glib “Cold War explanation” -- Kennedy’s decision on and surprisingly firm political commitment to Apollo was NOT driven “primarily by Cold War competition with the Russians” … but by motivations demonstrably now far, far larger—
The foundation for this new analysis can be found, not surprisingly, in Kennedy’s own historic address to that Joint Session of Congress, May 25, 1961 … if you just seriously look—
“… the key to our future on Earth ….”
As we further detail in our New York Times Bestseller, “Dark Mission: the Secret History of NASA,” these newly-published documents reveal that, within days of his ringing challenge to the American people, the Congress and the Soviets in Washington, Kennedy was actually, urgently, trying to sell Nikita Khrushchev (then head of the Soviet Union), at their first Summit in Vienna, on the daring idea of joint US/USSR space exploration programs!
Going to the Moon, not in competition … but together!
To add further substance to this major historical revision, we have the first-person testimony of none other than Sergei Khrushchev, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s son, in the October, 1999 issue of American Heritage Magazine:
This, of course, not only tosses into the ashcan of history all the “real-politic reasons” we’ve been given for Kennedy engaging in an expensive space race with the Russians -- it raises profound political, diplomatic and economic questions regarding the President’s real, underlying motivations for going to the Moon at all!
What was John Fitzgerald Kennedy really thinking?
Obviously, from this documentation, and despite his repeated public rhetoric regarding American’s “winning the race to the Moon,” the President privately thought a joint lunar effort with the USSR was the only real way to proceed! Consistent with this analysis, the documents now reveal that Kennedy tried repeatedly to get Premier Khrushchev to go along with this radical idea; on the record, we have at least five attempts by Kennedy, across the three full years of his aborted Presidency -- in secret NSC memos and discussions in the White House, and in equally clandestine diplomatic efforts with both Khrushchev, and even meetings with the Washington Ambassador from the Soviet Union, Anatoly Dobrynin -- to quietly convince the Premier to undertake a joint manned mission to the Moon!
It is clear from these remarkably persistent initiatives, long before his going public at the United Nations in September 1963, that the President in fact saw “a combined journey to the Moon” as vastly more significant and far-reaching than “achieving an American propaganda coup over the Soviet Union, by going there alone ….”
And, in mid-November 1963, according to Sergei Khrushchev’s personal recollections -- after literally years of determined efforts by the President to convince him to accept this 180-degree reversal of the then public perception of “an all out race” … Nikita Khrushchev finally did agree!
Again, according to his son … this time on PBS:
However, just days later … John Kennedy was killed.
In 1999, Sergei Khrushchev looked back:
This indisputable chronology now makes clear what Kennedy’s “secret agenda” -- via a vis Apollo – really was from the beginning: not only the first, historic manned mission to the Moon … but a radical “end run” on the decades-long, hopelessly stalemated international situation vis a vis the Soviet Union. An imaginative attempt to diffuse -- if not completely end -- the long “Cold War” decades sooner than it eventually ended; to usher in a new era of unprecedented cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning in space … literally on the surface of another world … but ultimately, designed to spread around this world.
A radical, imaginative diplomatic effort that ultimately, we now know succeeded … only to be killed by John Kennedy’s own, untimely death.
For those who have not lived long enough to remember the frightening nightmares of those years for all us kids -- the pointless “duck and cover” exercises in the middle of the day; the recurring wail of air raid sirens in “mock Russian bomber drills” in the middle of the night; the recurring images on TV of “atom bombs blowing entire cities into smithereens …” – there is no imagining the almost physical lifting of the burden with the real ending of the Cold War, in 1991.
Or the haunting thought I had, when I first found these extraordinary documents confirming my deepest-held suspicions of Kennedy’s real thinking on Apollo, echoing exactly those of Premier Khrushchev’s son:
That -- were it not for the sudden murder of this young President on that Dallas afternoon -- the long, expensive nuclear nightmare of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union could realistically have ended a full generation earlier … replaced by “who knows what” -- if Kennedy had also lived to be the architect of that new, unwritten future!
Which brings us to the hard reality of today's NASA ... and its unique relevance to the unprecedented global challenges we face in these opening moments of the 21st Century ....
The sad fact is that today’s space agency is NOT the “can-do NASA” that John Kennedy and James Webb created, to take a hopeful generation to the Moon “within a decade.” And, it is certainly not the NASA that they planned to leave to future generations … to accomplish even more extraordinary missions, as the President declared at the United Nations just weeks before he died, “ultimately in service to all Mankind.”
NASA currently is an aging bureaucratic agency, bogged down with an equally aging, obsolete technology – the space shuttle; as it is equally bogged down -- in an astonishing display of sheer engineering incompetence -- in its current efforts even to create a viable successor to the shuttle, essential for successfully returning humans to the Moon.
And, if this were not enough, NASA is also still embedded in another dead-end project – named so by none other than the current head of NASA, Michael Griffin —
The International Space Station.
A project that, after taking the lion’s share of the limited agency resources from NASA’s true mission, exploration, for almost two decades … will be literally abandoned by NASA in just the next few years!
And then, just this week (at this writing), despite President Bush’s 2004 enunciation of a “new NASA vision” after the Space Station is completed, major splits have now developed within the agency over precisely what that specific “new NASA goal” should be … divisions which threaten to ultimately abandon future human exploration and development of the resources of the Moon—
If not headed off, this is a major short-term and long-term American economic disaster in the making ….
NASA currently gives jobs to about 18,000 civil servants, plus about 40,000 additional non-governmental workers through external contracts – the latter just as Glennan and Webb originally intended. However, this direct economic impact is only about a tenth that created by NASA funding at the height of the Apollo program. Yet, in keeping with trends established at the beginning of John Kennedy’s “Apollo Vision,” a large percentage of these current NASA jobs are still located in the South – from Florida to Texas – and would bring major economic disaster to this region, and a range of regional institutions -- from local government to schools -- if NASA’s current programs, specifically the space shuttle, the Space Station and the follow-on “Constellation” program to return to the Moon, were substantially curtailed or altered.
In the longer term ….
It can now be seriously argued that, without John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s extraordinary vision vis a vis “Apollo” – and, at a pivotal time in American history both domestically and internationally, the 1960’s – the enormous economic benefits our society reaped later in the 20th Century (and into the dawning of the 21st ) simply wouldn’t be here!
All the myriad technologies which make our modern, Internet-connected, computer-driven civilization possible, starting with the “chips” at the heart of every electronic gadget we so casually take for granted -- from our cell phones, to the I-Pods, to the prolific home computers and communications satellites which link all of us together -- simply would not be fueling the heart of the annual thirteen trillion dollar 21st Century American economy (up from just under a half trillion dollars in 1960, when Kennedy was elected) … almost half a century after the inception of Apollo and the revolutionary technologies it spawned.
Jerome E. Schnee, economist with the Graduate School of Business at Rutgers University, published a report in 1977 assessing the overall economic impact of Apollo. According to Dr. Schnee--
The current US economy is ~26 times larger than the one John Kennedy inherited from Dwight Eisenhower in the 1960s. If the fundamental NASA R&D that Kennedy initiated through Project Apollo is not emulated, if bold new technological initiatives for the next half-century are not carried out equally successfully -- through the invention of the fundamental new technologies NASA will require, across a broad spectrum of energy, electronic and environmental needs essential to actually building any working infrastructure for living on the Moon – then, as the studies show, the larger American economy will inevitably suffer; because again, according to Jerome Schnee:
Shockingly however, current NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin, recently admitted that the share of NASA’s budget specifically devoted to fundamental research and development of “new space technology” – new energy resources, new materials, new communications methods, development of fundamentally new propulsion technologies for transporting Americans more cheaply into space – from a high of about 10% of NASA’s budget during “the Apollo Era,” has fallen now to ZERO in the current NASA budget!
And, remember, it is this fundamental R&D which, according to the economists (above), supports “… 90 percent of the long-term increase in output per capita in the U.S. … [directly] attributable to technological change.”
The next president of the United States must reverse this disastrous, short-term policy for NASA – and return the Agency to its unique historical position … as a force for investing crucial national resources in a way that are proven, by every economic indicator, to demonstrably increase the Nation’s wealth … and, over generations!
The next elected president will be facing major global and domestic challenges that, in many ways, are far more difficult to successfully resolve than those which John Kennedy confronted. These include a steadily declining dollar; a fundamentally decreasing economic productivity at home, after decades of continuous economic growth; a looming credit crisis with major foreign lenders, particularly China; and an ever increasing dependence on foreign and expensive energy resources – specifically, Middle Eastern oil.
As we approach the 2008 presidential election, one overwhelming fact should be born in mind by all the candidates confronting these daunting problems -- regardless of their party, race or gender: real societal wealth is created by a real increase in any one of only three major economic drivers—
Energy … physical resources … information.
John Kennedy’s “Apollo” increased the Nation’s wealth across these ~50 years by significantly increasing one of these “Big Three” – basic scientific and engineering information, subsequently made available to American industry at large. The result was the “Internet civilization” we currently enjoy.
President Bush’s new “Vision for Space Exploration” – by planning a major return to the Moon, this time to stay – will inevitably require a dramatic increase in all three prime indicators, and thus will inevitably increase real wealth back here on Earth even more dramatically, through vastly expanded access to—
More energy, more resources … and dramatically new scientific information.
In other words, if Apollo (according to the previously cited studies) “made” the Nation ~8 times richer than it cost … and, through long-term R&D ~26 times richer overall in the last five decades … then a reasonable extrapolation of those studies would indicate that returning to the Moon -- with the intention this time to permanently inhabit another planet – if accelerated, could potentially result in a GDP increase approximately 20 times that initial NASA investment--
Almost exactly what Jeff Bennett independently calculated as the national return from “generational educational inspiration” alone … just from establishing the first American Moonbase (above)!
But, as with John Kennedy’s grand Apollo vision ~40 years ago, perhaps the most important legacy we all could see from accelerating our return to the Moon is what could dramatically happen here on Earth in just the next few years ….
It is testimony to the lack of current imaginative thinking in Washington, on how to end (not merely “win”) our current “war on terror” – the so-called “clash of civilizations” -- which presents us once again with the same dismal prospects that once confronted President Kennedy, for “more unending nightmares for countless generations of Americans to come ….” Some candidates for president have even promised during the current campaign—
“There are far more wars to come …”
What is clearly needed, then, is some of the imaginative thinking that John Kennedy displayed in creating a radical new way to peacefully seek an end our own generation’s “unending, overriding nightmare …” A proposal that could realistically bring the West and the vast majority of Islam peacefully together … in some overarching “common cause, or project” … for the long-term betterment of both great cultures and the effective isolation of the tiny group of ultimate fanatics currently driving all the fear.
Perhaps, in seeking the visionary benefits of such a joint collaboration, we should look spaceward once again and ask, as John Kennedy once asked—
Which leaves us with these still unanswered questions:
Why, despite his public "Cold War" rhetoric, was John Kennedy so obviously determined privately to send young astronauts and cosmonauts jointly to the Moon!? What, in his mind, could have been waiting there … which might have the power to unify a world? And why, after years of stubbornly declining, was Premier Khrushchev suddenly persuaded to agree …?
The answers -- when we do return -- may surprise and save us all—
A New Frontier … of Hope.