President Kennedy Announces the Goal of Landing on the Moon, May 25, 1961

Created by Bob Helmbrecht, collection development librarian

Sixty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy announced in a speech to a joint session of Congress his goal “of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” by the end of the decade. A month before this, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space, a blow to an American scientific and military establishment still embarrassed by the Sputnik launch four years earlier.

While Russia was widely considered to be in the lead in the space race, experts advised Kennedy that the United States had some advantages that would give them a strong chance to overtake them given a concerted national effort. Kennedy also needed a political “win” after the fiasco of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in April, and an ambitious project such as this was an ideal way for him to show leadership.

While Kennedy himself tragically did not live to see it, the program that became Project Apollo was a success, with John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth less than a year later, and the first crewed lunar landing in 1969. You can read more about the space race and America’s voyage to the moon in books in the Library’s collection:

Draws on new primary source material and first hand interviews in a reassessment of the space program that examines the political, cultural and scientific factors that launched NASA and the space race. 

A space historian explores the many-faceted stories told about the meaning of the Apollo program and how it forever altered American society, and weaves in stories from important moments in Apollo’s history to draw readers into his analysis. 

A companion book to the American Experience Film on PBS. Going in depth to explore their stories beyond the PBS series, writer/producer Robert Stone brings these important figures to brilliant life.

An account of the previously unheralded but pivotal contributions of NASA’s African-American women mathematicians to America’s space program describes how they were segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws in spite of their groundbreaking successes.

Drawing on new archival sources, personal interviews and previously unpublished notes, this riveting history of the epic orbital flight that put America back into the space race reveals how one astronaut’s heroics lifted the nation’s hopes.

The moon landing was an important moment in history, but many forget what was happening behind the scenes — discover the groundbreaking political history of the Apollo program in this riveting exploration of America’s space missions.

Shares the inside story of the dangerous Apollo 8 mission, focusing on the lives of astronaut heroes Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, while illuminating the political factors that prompted the decision to risk lives to save the Apollo program and define the space race.

Presents a gripping account of the dangers, the challenges and the sheer determination that defined not only Apollo 11, but also the Mercury and Gemini missions that came before it.