On the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the country to commit to sending a man to the moon before the
end of the 1960s, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has declassified a presidential recording of the President and NASA Administrator James Webb discussing Kennedy’s private concerns over waning public support for space exploration.
In President Kennedy’s address to Congress on May 25, 1961, he urged the country to make sending a man to the moon a national priority.
Over two years later, President Kennedy is confronted with the financial burden that he predicted in 1961 and, in the conversation with Webb, expresses concern over what Congress and the public would see as the high cost of the space program.
“President Kennedy was both a visionary and a realist,” said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. “He understood the necessity of having both public and Congressional support if his vision of landing a man on the moon was to become a reality before the end of the 1960’s.”
During the September 18, 1963 conversation with Webb, President Kennedy comments that going to the moon must be more than just a “stunt”. With the 1964 presidential election looming Kennedy expresses his concerns that, “The difficulty is that I’m not sure how much, right now, I don’t think the space program has much political positives.” Kennedy later ruminates on his legacy, questioning Webb as to
whether the moon landing would occur after the end of his second term.
The recorded meeting is open in full without any redactions. Unlike many of the presidential recordings from the Kennedy Library Archives, the quality and clarity of the tape recording are exceptional. This release is from Tape 111. Approximately 30 hours of un-reviewed meeting tapes remain. According to the JFK Library, processing of the presidential recordings will continue to be conducted in chronological order.