• President John F. Kennedy delivered his "We choose to go to the moon" speech at Rice University Stadium in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. It highlighted the need for a national agenda to land people on the Moon and return them safely to Earth.

    More info
    Select an item:
    President John F. Kennedy Speaks at Rice University
    • Date
    • 12/09/1962
    • Creator
    • Stoughton, Cecil W. (Cecil William), 1920-2008
    • Description
    • President John F. Kennedy speaks at Rice University Stadium, Houston, Texas.
    • Rights
    • Public Domain
    • Partner
    • John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

  • This reprint of The Huntsville Times from April 1961 heralds Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin's accomplishment of being the first human in space. 

    More info
    Select an item:
    Man enters space
    • Date
    • 12/04/1961
    • Description
    • This reprint of "The Huntsville Times" heralds Yuri Gagarin's and the Soviet Union's accomplishment.
    • Rights
    • Copyright The Huntsville Times

  • This 1961 face-to-face meeting was the only one of its kind for Soviet Premiere Krushchev and US President Kennedy. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Khrushchev and Kennedy Shaking Hands
    • Creator
    • Look Magazine.
    • Description
    • Photograph of President John F. Kennedy and Chairman Nikita Khrushchev during their meeting in Vienna, Austria.
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • John F. Kennedy Library

  • April 1961 memorandum to President Kennedy from Vice President Lyndon Johnson about the readiness of the US space program.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Memoranduam for President Kennedy: Evaluation of Space Program April 28, 1961
    • Creator
    • President (1961-1963 : Kennedy). Office of the Personal Secretary. 1961-1963.
    • Description
    • Lyndon Johnson's response to President Kennedy's memorandum of April 20, 1961 asking for an evaluation of the U. S. Space Program.
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • John F. Kennedy Library

After the United States was upstaged by the Soviet Union with Yuri Gagarin's successful spaceflight, America felt the pressure to catch up and overtake the Soviet Union in the race. Support grew for President Kennedy’s vision of an American man on the Moon, which before Gagarin’s flight was widely considered too expensive. On May 25, 1961, Kennedy went before Congress to ask for financial support for what would become the Apollo space program. His speech, titled "Special Message on Urgent National Needs,” stressed that “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.”

After appealing to Congress, Kennedy rallied the support of American citizens with his famous Rice University speech on September 12, 1962. In this speech, he framed his dream of sending a man to the Moon as being both instrumental to US security and as a way for Americans to conquer the next unexplored frontier: "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." This speech was an implicit challenge to the Soviet Union. However, Nikita Khrushchev—the Soviet Premier—responded with silence. He refused to publicly confirm that the Soviet Union was participating in a race to the Moon.