Freedom Fueled the American Moon Shot

50 years ago this Wednesday, on May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to win the space race, thus fulfilling one of humanity's dearest dreams:

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.

Conceived half a century ago, during the Eisenhower Administration, and conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Apollo program responded to the surprise Soviet Sputnik 1 orbital satellite.

America's scientific ambitions, human achievements, and exploratory adventures have been unparalleled ever since.

Noteworthy, Kennedy's moonshot was announced during a speech to Congress that included his articulation of the Freedom Doctrine.

Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom's cause.

No role in history could be more difficult or more important. We stand for freedom.

That is our conviction for ourselves--that is our only commitment to others. No friend, no neutral and no adversary should think otherwise.

We are not against any man -- or any nation--or any system -- except as it is hostile to freedom.

Nor am I here to present a new military doctrine, bearing any one name or aimed at any one area. I am here to promote the freedom doctrine.

President Kennedy's speech is remembered for his Cold War challenge to catch up to and pass the Soviet military space threat.

But the speech was also a remarkable call to affirm the ever-renewing American revolutionary campaign for independence, security, prosperity, and liberty.

Today, 50 years after President Kennedy's urging, President Obama has deeply disappointed many Americans, including the first man to land on the moon, Neil Armstrong, with weak Presidential support for lunar exploration and continued human spaceflight.

Noting the decision to cancel the Ares 1 launch vehicle and the Constellation moon landing program, Armstrong and Apollo veterans Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan wrote publicly:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.

Somehow, Mr. Obama still dares to call this time our Sputnik moment, our challenge to "win the future" against economic competitors in the fields of bio-science, clean energy technology, and computer engineering.

But what is this decade's big vision for achievement, advancement and ambition?

Imperative must be national projects such as energy independence, border security, counter-terrorism, and innovative re-industrialization to compete against China, India, Brazil, and other emerging economies.

American leadership will also develop medical treatments and cures in cardiology and cancer and countless diseases.  We shall partner as well for global food, water, and environmental sustainability by incentivizing governments towards internal decency, and international trade and security.  

But, perhaps the most important mission of our time is within the American civic mind.  We must nurture a return to the American founding principle of individual liberty itself, so severely threatened by the growth over the past 50 years of big government and its entitled constituencies, who would be unrecognizable to the patriots who declared independence and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

Two American Presidents of the past half century, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, repeatedly insisted that the American future was bright and positive, calling forth a new frontier and remaining always a shining city on a hill.

This spirit was captured when brave Astronaut Armstrong took his first step on the moon on July 20, 1969, declaring:

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The seven words on the plaque that remains on the surface of the Moon, in the Sea of Tranquility, where America's noblest hopes and aspirations landed, are:

We came in peace for all mankind.

Inspired by liberty, Americans have always been dreamers, discoverers, and doers.

President Kennedy boldly promoted our national lunar space program, and called for us to chase the stars and touch the face of the moon, the romantic symbol throughout history of possibilities outside our normal reach.

The Apollo freedom flight reached its target and returned, inviting us to dream American dreams again and again.

Wherever we go next, we go forward in freedom, the essential American spirit and still the American way.

Larry Greenfield is fellow in American studies at the Claremont Institute, and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance.
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