‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

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The Apollo programme was the US human space project founded by NASA in 1961 to fulfil US President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Legendary astronaut’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did just that, after touching down the lunar lander Eagle on the dusty surface on July 20, 1969. The pair spent two-and-a-quarter hours exploring and collecting more than 20kg of rock samples before burying the US flag into the surface to signify the end of the Space Race with the Soviet Union.

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But things could have turned out very differently.

Recordings from a meeting at the Oval Office on September 18, 1963, reveal Kennedy’s private thinking about space.

This meeting, with NASA administrator James Webb, lasted 45 minutes as the pair discussed how to sustain Apollo during what were clearly going to be years of spending without years of excitement.

Smithsonian magazine reports that Kennedy said, “It’s been a couple of years, and right now, I don’t think the space programme has much political excitement.”

‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

JFK was sceptical over whether the Moon landing was possible (Image: GETTY)

‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

JFK called for man to step foot on the Moon by the end of the Sixties (Image: GETTY)

“I agree,” said Mr Webb. “I think this is a real problem.”

Kennedy then added: “I mean, if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then it would stimulate interest again.

“But right now, space has lost a lot of its glamour.”

The immediate cuts that congressional committees had proposed to the NASA budget would slow America’s leap to the Moon, prompting Mr Kennedy to ask: “If we’re cut that amount, we slip a year?”

“We’ll slip at least a year,” replied Mr Webb.

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‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

The space plans looked in tatters (Image: GETTY)

The meeting came just months before the 1964 US elections, and the recordings show Mr Kennedy was concerned if he would win again.

He added: “If I get re-elected, we’re not going to the Moon in our period, are we?”

Mr Webb replied: “No. No. You’re not going,” before Kennedy added: “We’re not going.”

The NASA boss added: “You’ll fly by it,” referring to the possibility of orbiting the Moon without landing.

He added: “It’s just going to take longer than that.

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‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969 (Image: GETTY)

“This is a tough job. A real tough job.”

Mr Kennedy saw only one strategy for protecting Apollo, an extension of the very first reasoning behind the Space Race – beating the Soviets – and sought to gain more financial backing from Congress.

On Thursday, October 10, 1963, the House passed the slimmed-down $ 5.1billion (£3.1billion) NASA budget – $ 600million (£462million) less than Mr Kennedy requested, at least $ 200million (£154million) less than Mr Webb had said was necessary to stay on track for a Moon landing within the decade. 

From the evidence at hand, it’s hard to imagine Mr Kennedy making the Moon landing itself a cornerstone of his second term. 

He had lots of other things he wanted to do.

‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

Lyndon B Johnson watching on proudly (Image: GETTY)

‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

Richard Nixon watched from his office (Image: GETTY)

But none of that happened, because Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963.

On January 21, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson submitted to Congress his budget for the next year, proposing to cut overall federal spending from Mr Kennedy’s previous budget by $ 500million (£385million), including cuts to defence, agriculture, veterans affairs and the post office. 

Mr Johnson raised spending for NASA to $ 5.3billion (£4.09billion), along with a request to immediately add back $ 141million (£109million) for the year already under way.

Whatever Mr Kennedy’s long-term space strategy had been, his death changed the political calculation, in space as in so many other areas. 

‘We’re not going’ Kennedy's Moon landing admission exposed in unearthed recordings

Neil Armstron, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (Image: GETTY)

Mr Johnson was determined to fulfil Mr Kennedy’s promise, and he did just that on July 21, 1969, despite pulling out of the Presidential campaign a year earlier.

It was Richard Nixon who would be in charge of the country during the launch and he viewed it from his office in the White House with his NASA liaison officer, Apollo astronaut Frank Borman.

Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last, Apollo 17, in December 1972. In these six spaceflights, twelve people walked on the Moon.

Source:Daily Express :: Science Feed


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