President Kennedy's Speech at Rice University

NASA Video
18 May 201318:15


TLDRThe transcript captures a pivotal moment in history where the speaker, presumably President John F. Kennedy, addresses a crowd about the importance of space exploration. Emphasizing the urgency and significance of pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and progress, he highlights the rapid advancements in science and technology, and the challenges they present. Kennedy underscores America's commitment to leading the space race, not just for the sake of competition, but for the pursuit of knowledge, peace, and the betterment of humanity. He articulates a vision where space becomes a frontier for cooperation and scientific advancement, and he calls for a collective effort to ensure the success of this endeavor. The speech is a rallying cry to embrace the difficulties and to strive for greatness, encapsulated in the famous phrase, 'We choose to go to the moon.'


  • 🚀 Emphasis on the importance of space exploration as a new frontier for knowledge, progress, and strength.
  • 📈 The exponential growth of scientific manpower and the rapid pace of technological advancements.
  • 🌌 Despite significant progress, the vast unknowns in science and technology remain, highlighting the need for continued exploration.
  • 🛰️ The United States' commitment to leading in space exploration, reflecting its historical progress and determination.
  • 🌠 A call to action for the nation to embrace the challenges and opportunities of space exploration to maintain its leadership role.
  • 🌟 The transformative impact of space efforts on science, education, industry, and overall societal progress.
  • 💡 The potential of space technology to serve as a force for good, contingent on the responsible actions of humanity.
  • 🌙 The moon landing as a symbol of the nation's ambition to tackle difficult tasks and lead in space exploration.
  • 🌍 The alignment of space exploration with national security and the peaceful use of space to prevent it from becoming a theater of war.
  • 🏆 The economic and job creation benefits of the space program, highlighting its multifaceted impact on society.
  • 🙏 A closing remark that invokes a sense of unity and the seeking of divine blessing for the endeavors of humanity in space.

Q & A

  • Who delivered the speech mentioned in the transcript?

    -The speech was delivered by an unnamed President of the United States, likely John F. Kennedy given the context and historical references.

  • What is the main theme of the speech?

    -The main theme of the speech is the importance of space exploration and the commitment of the United States to become a leader in this field.

  • What does the speaker emphasize about the pace of progress and its consequences?

    -The speaker emphasizes that the pace of progress is breathtaking and creates new challenges, problems, and dangers, but it is also essential for the advancement of knowledge and human capabilities.

  • How does the speaker describe the history of human achievements in the last 50 years, compared to the entire 50,000 years of recorded history?

    -The speaker condenses 50,000 years of human history into a 50-year timeframe, highlighting the rapid acceleration of technological advancements and scientific discoveries in recent times.

  • What is the significance of the moon landing goal in the speech?

    -The moon landing goal is significant as it represents a challenging yet achievable target that will drive innovation, inspire progress, and demonstrate the United States' commitment to leadership in space exploration.

  • How does the speaker address concerns about the costs of space exploration?

    -The speaker acknowledges the high costs of space exploration but argues that the investment is necessary for progress, national security, and the potential benefits it will bring to society.

  • What is the speaker's vision for the peaceful use of space?

    -The speaker envisions space as a domain free from national conflict and prejudice, where knowledge and understanding are advanced through international cooperation and the use of space for scientific exploration rather than as a theater of war.

  • What role does the city of Houston play in the space efforts mentioned in the speech?

    -Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, is highlighted as the heart of a growing scientific and engineering community, which will significantly benefit from the space program in terms of job creation and technological advancements.

  • What is the speaker's stance on competition in space exploration?

    -The speaker advocates for a proactive approach, emphasizing that the United States should not fall behind in the race for space exploration and must strive to lead in order to shape the future of space as a realm of peace and cooperation.

  • How does the speaker relate the space program to broader national goals?

    -The speaker relates the space program to national goals such as scientific leadership, industrial growth, education, and the pursuit of peace and security, arguing that success in space is crucial for the overall well-being and global standing of the United States.

  • What historical reference does the speaker make to justify the pursuit of challenging goals?

    -The speaker references British explorer George Mallory's famous quote about climbing Mount Everest 'because it is there,' likening the moon and space exploration to other great endeavors that humanity undertakes to push its boundaries.



🚀 Embrace of Progress and Challenge

The speaker acknowledges the honor of being at the college and emphasizes the significance of meeting in a time of change and challenge. Despite the rapid growth in scientific knowledge, there is still much unknown. The speaker reflects on the incredible advancements in human history, condensed into a 50-year span, highlighting the rapid pace of progress. The speech acknowledges both the potential and the perils of the space race, urging the audience to embrace the future and not to rest on past achievements.


🌟 The Inevitability of Space Exploration

The speaker asserts that space exploration will continue with or without the participation of the audience, as it is one of the greatest adventures of all time. The United States, being a leader in various industrial and scientific revolutions, must not fall behind in the space race. The speaker emphasizes the nation's commitment to peace and freedom in space, and the importance of being first to ensure the positive use of space. The challenges and costs of space exploration are recognized, but the speaker argues that the benefits and the opportunity for cooperation far outweigh the risks.


🛰️ Showcase of American Achievements and Aspirations

The speaker describes recent American achievements in space, including the launch of satellites and the development of powerful rockets. Despite setbacks and competition, the United States has made significant strides in space technology and intends to catch up and超越 in manned space flight. The speaker highlights the educational and technological benefits that will come from the space program, including advancements in industry, medicine, and learning. The economic impact of the space effort is also mentioned, with the creation of new companies and jobs being a direct result of the program.


🌙 The Moon Landing Goal and National Commitment

The speaker passionately outlines the goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade, emphasizing the difficulty and ambition of the task. The moon landing is presented as a symbol of the nation's commitment to progress and leadership in space. The speaker compares the endeavor to other great challenges in human history, arguing that the pursuit of space is a worthy goal. The speech concludes with a call for faith in the nation's ability to achieve this goal and a prayer for God's blessing on the endeavor.




The term 'progress' refers to the forward or onward movement towards a refined, improved, or desired state. In the context of the video, it is used to highlight the importance of advancements in various fields, particularly in science and technology, as well as the city and state's notable achievements in these areas. The speaker emphasizes the need for continued progress to address the challenges and changes of the era, despite the accompanying fears and uncertainties.


A 'challenge' is a task or situation that is difficult to accomplish or deal with; it represents an obstacle or test. In the video, the speaker discusses the challenges faced during a time of significant change and the need to embrace them. The exploration of space is presented as a grand challenge that humanity must undertake to advance knowledge and ensure national leadership.


In this context, 'ignorance' refers to the lack of knowledge or understanding about something. The speaker contrasts the increasing knowledge of humanity with the expanding realms of ignorance, suggesting that as we learn more, we also become more aware of what we do not know. This concept is used to emphasize the vastness of the unknown and the importance of continued exploration and learning.

💡space exploration

Space exploration is the investigation of outer space by any means, including scientific study, technology, and manned or unmanned spaceflight. In the video, it is presented as a critical endeavor that will define the future of humanity, with the United States aiming to lead this effort. The speaker argues that space exploration is not only about scientific advancement but also about asserting national leadership and promoting peace.

💡national leadership

National leadership refers to the ability of a country to guide, inspire, and direct others, particularly in matters of international importance. In the video, the concept is tied to the United States' role in space exploration, emphasizing the country's responsibility to lead in scientific and industrial advancements for the betterment of all humanity. The speaker suggests that being a leader in space is crucial for maintaining peace and security globally.


Peace is the state of being free from disturbance, conflict, or war. In the video, peace is presented as a fundamental value and goal, with the speaker expressing a desire for space to be a domain of cooperation rather than conflict. The exploration of space is seen as an opportunity to promote peace by fostering international collaboration and preventing the weaponization of space.


The 'moon' is Earth's natural satellite and a significant milestone in the quest for space exploration. In the video, the moon is used as a symbol of the ambitious goals that humanity must strive to achieve. The decision to aim for the moon reflects the determination to undertake difficult but transformative endeavors, setting a clear and inspiring objective for the nation's space program.


Technology refers to the tools, machines, and systems that people use to solve problems and accomplish tasks more efficiently. In the video, technology is portrayed as a critical driver of progress and a means to unlock new knowledge and capabilities. The advancements in technology, particularly in space and related industries, are seen as vital for the nation's growth and its leadership role.


Industry refers to the sector of the economy that is concerned with the production of goods and services, often involving large-scale operations and the use of machinery. In the video, the speaker emphasizes the role of the industrial sector in supporting the nation's space efforts and driving economic growth. The development of new materials, tools, and computers for various applications is highlighted as a direct outcome of the space program.


Investment refers to the act of committing resources, such as money or time, with the expectation of achieving a profit or benefit in the future. In the context of the video, investment is crucial for funding the space program and related industries. It is portrayed as a necessary component for driving innovation, creating jobs, and ensuring the nation's leadership in space exploration.


Education is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values, and habits, often through formal schooling or other learning experiences. In the video, education is highlighted as a key area that will benefit from the advancements in science and technology brought about by the space program. It is seen as a means to enrich the knowledge base of the nation and prepare individuals for the challenges of the future.


The speaker is honored to be an honorary visiting professor and promises a brief first lecture.

The event takes place in a city and state noted for progress, strength, and the need for knowledge, progress, and strength.

Despite the rapid growth in scientific knowledge, there is still much unknown and unexplored.

The speaker condenses 50,000 years of human history into a 50-year timeline to illustrate the rapid pace of progress.

In the last 50 years, humanity has seen the invention of the printing press, steam engine, electricity, and space travel.

The United States is a nation built by forward-thinking individuals, not by those who wait and rest.

The exploration of space is a great adventure and essential for nations aspiring to be leaders.

The goal is to ensure space is filled with instruments of knowledge and peace, not weapons of mass destruction.

The United States aims to lead in space exploration, driven by the pursuit of knowledge and progress.

The decision to accelerate space efforts is one of the most important of the speaker's presidency.

The space program has led to the creation of new companies and jobs, benefiting the economy and technological advancement.

Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become a hub for scientific and engineering communities.

The space budget has significantly increased, reflecting the high national priority of the space program.

The speaker envisions sending a rocket to the moon and back within the decade, showcasing the boldness of the endeavor.

The moon landing is not just a scientific goal but a symbol of overcoming challenges and achieving the seemingly impossible.

The speaker invokes the spirit of adventure and the pursuit of knowledge as reasons for exploring space.





President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor,


Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller,


Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:


I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting


professor, and I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.


I am delighted to be here, and I'm particularly


delighted to be here on this occasion.


We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for


progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all


three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade


of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.


The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.


Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today,


despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is


doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times


that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of


the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far


outstrip our collective comprehension.


No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but


condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in


a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know


very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them


advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them.


Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged


from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years


ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity


began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year,


and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year


span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.


Newton explored the meaning of gravity.


Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available.


Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power,


and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus,


we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.


This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but


create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems,


new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high


costs and hardships, as well as high reward.


So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are


a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of


Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who


waited and rested and wished to look behind them.




This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space.


William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth


Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are


accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised


and overcome with answerable courage.


If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that


man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and


cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead,


whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of


all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other


nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.


Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the


first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern


invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation


does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of


space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. (applause)


For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond,


and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile


flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.


We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of


mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.


Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation


are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry,


our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others,


all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men,


and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.


We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained,


and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.


For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own.


Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States


occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether


this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.


I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space


any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea,


but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war,


without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.


There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet.


Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind,


and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again.


But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal?


And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain?


Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?


Why does Rice play Texas?


We choose to go to the moon.


We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things,


not because they are easy, but because they are hard,


because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,


because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept,


one we are unwilling to postpone,


and one we intend to win, and the others, too.


It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift


our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions


that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.


In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for


the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history.


We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket,


many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn,


generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor.


We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined,


will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile,


assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure,


as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.


Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth.


Some 40 of them were "made in the United States of America" and


they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge


to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.


The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus


is the most is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science.


The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and


dropping it in this stadium between the the 40-yard lines.


Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course.


Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms,


and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.


We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them.


And they may be less public.


To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight.


But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade,


we shall make up and move ahead.


The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge


of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping


and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home


as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice,


will reap the harvest of these gains.


And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy,


has already created a great number of new companies,


and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating


new demands in investment and skilled personnel,


and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth.


What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the


furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space.


Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the


heart of a large scientific and engineering community.


During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects


to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area,


to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year;


to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities;


and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion


from this Center in this City.


To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money.


This year¹s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961,


and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined.


That budget now stands at five billion, four hundred million dollars a year--a staggering sum,


though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year.


Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person


per week to more than 50 cents a week for


every man, woman and child in the United Stated,


for we have given this program a high national priority--


even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision,


for we do not now know what benefits await us.


But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon,


240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston,


a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field,


made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented,


capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been


experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch,


carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control,


communications, food and survival, on an untried mission,


to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth,


re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour,


causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--


and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold.


I'm the one who is doing all the work, so we just want you to stay cool for a minute. [laughter]


However, I think we're going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid.


I don't think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job.


And this will be done in the decade of the sixties.


It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university.


It will be done during the term of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform.


But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.


I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon


as part of a great national effort of the United States of America. (applause)


Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory,


who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it.


He said, "Because it is there."


Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it,


and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.


And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on


the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.


Thank you.



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