Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kennedy Administration Shapes Current Space Activities

Wernher von Braun and John  Kennedy in 1962. Photo c/o NASA.

          by Sarah Manea

It's worth noting on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, that the 35th president of the United States chose to have his country go to the moon, and to this day, will always be remembered as one of the biggest political supporters of the American space program.

Even before John. F. Kennedy worked in the oval office he had toiled for the creation of NASA as a senator, proposing space related programs to congress, his boldest plan being to land an American safely on the moon. It was with this dream, and from increasing Russian pressures, that Kennedy could justify the expenditure and resources invested in such a remarkable and challenging task.

The space race had begun during Eisenhower’s time in office, and picked up after Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first person in space, in 1961. With this giant Russian leap forward in space exploration and technology, America could not stand to be left behind. It was Kennedy, in 1962, who claimed that this was a matter of prestige and status for America, whereby justifying the huge expenditure, which was close to $5.2Bln USD's at its peak in 1965, and $24Bln USD's for the overall Apollo project (1966-1972).

"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish," he said, during a speech to a joint session of Congress in May 25th, 1961.

Thanks to Kennedy’s space initiative, jobs in Florida, Texas, Mississippi and California flourished. Scientists across the nation became involved and comfortably employed, and in the early days of the project, in 1966, there were over 400,000 people working for, or alongside, NASA.

Even though Kennedy did all he could to push his country ahead in space science and to a scientifically superior nation, today, 44 years after the space race has been won by the USA, the infrastructure, jobs, and administration at NASA have not changed very much. The substructure used to launch man to the moon has still not been fully dismantled, and was never intended to be used for anything else, resulting in wasted resources and funds. On top of this, the funding, and political support for NASA has faltered through the years, even though the aerospace industry is still dominant in the southern economy.

The first men on the Moon. Astronaut Edwin Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin, photographed by astronaut Neil Armstrong in July 1969. Photo c/o NASA.
Many people believe that certain aspects of Kennedy’s space initiative seem to consist of political tactics used by his Democratic party to gather exceptional support during elections. From the year 1960 and onward, it’s been observed that NASA initially set up shop in traditional republican areas, and the newly created jobs encouraged NASA employees to vote for the Democratic party. This method of targeting republican voters helped democratic candidates get elected through the promise of job security.

Subsequent administrations have preserved these jobs, which added an extra layer of NASA bureaucracy over time, in order not to alienate voters. Because of these extra positions, the cost for NASA to launch rockets today is much higher than it should be, as there is more expenditure in salaries throughout the agency.
Sarah Manea.

Kennedy did not get to see the moon landing, as it happened 6 years after his assassination, but all his efforts and big dreams shaped one of the most advanced space programs the world has ever seen. 

Sarah Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

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