Sept. 12 is 50th anniversary of JFK’s iconic speech, ‘We choose to go to the moon,’ at Rice University

David Ruth
713-348-6327
david@rice.edu

Jade Boyd
713-348-6778
jadeboyd@rice.edu

 Sept. 12 is 50th anniversary of JFK’s iconic speech, ‘We choose to go to the moon,’ at Rice University
Rice University’s weekly centennial videos run through Oct. 12 

HOUSTON – (Aug. 30, 2012) – Few moments in Rice University’s history are as well known or oft remarked upon as the Sept. 12, 1962, speech at Rice Stadium in which President John F. Kennedy boldly declared, “We choose to go to the moon …”

That best-known line from the speech earned a thunderous ovation, in part because of Kennedy’s clever oratory. He played to the hometown crowd by preceding that statement with “Why does Rice play Texas?” – a line he had written by hand between the lines of the typed copy prepared by White House aide Ted Sorensen. Then he continued, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard …”

Working with Centennial Historian Melissa Kean and Douglas Brinkley, fellow in history at Rice University’s Baker Institute, video producer Brandon Martin takes a look at Kennedy’s iconic speech. To read a complete account of JFK’s speech at Rice, go to Jade Boyd’s Rice News story following this news release. It is also available online at http://news.rice.edu/?p=33450.

To help celebrate the university’s centennial Oct. 12, Rice University is producing weekly videos exploring the school’s unique history.

The video, available on YouTube at http://youtu.be/oo5DL1J2I8Y, is also available to media in high quality and without music for editing purposes.

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7. To schedule an interview with Brinkley, contact David Ruth, director of national media relations at Rice, at david@rice.edu or 713-348-6327.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

To see other stories in the centennial video series, go to www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60D6D71E71B66B3D&feature=plcp.

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Rice News story
Jade Boyd

JFK’s 1962 moon speech still appeals 50 years later
Kennedy speech marked turning point for Rice, Houston

Few moments in Rice’s history are as well known or oft remarked upon as the 1962 speech in which President John F. Kennedy boldly declared, “We choose to go to the moon!”

The speech marked a turning point for Rice, the city of Houston, the nation and the world. Globally, the space race played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and in the U.S. the space program shared headlines with the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights. In Houston, NASA would pump more than $1 billion into the local economy in the 1960s and help the city blossom into the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis.

In a tribute to Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong this week, Rice alum Paul Burka ’63, executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine, published the verbatim text of Kennedy’s speech in his blog. Burka, who was at Rice Stadium that day, said the speech “speaks to the way Americans viewed the future in those days. It is a great speech, one that encapsulates all of recorded history and seeks to set it in the history of our own time. Unlike today’s politicians, Kennedy spoke to our best impulses as a nation, not our worst.”

Kennedy spoke at the stadium at 10 a.m. Sept. 12. It was a warm, sunny day, and fall classes were not yet under way. Rice’s incoming freshmen were on campus for orientation, but many of the estimated 40,000 spectators were Houston school children, said Rice Centennial Historian Melissa Kean.

Kennedy told the audience that the United States intended to take the lead in spaceflight, both to ensure that the Soviet Union did not base strategic weapons in space and because space exploration “is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

The best-known line from the speech — “We choose to go to the moon!” — earned a thunderous ovation, in part because of Kennedy’s clever oratory. He played to the hometown crowd with the preceding line, “Why does Rice play Texas?” — a line that Kennedy jotted between the lines of the typed copy prepared by White House aide Ted Sorensen.

In its front-page coverage of the speech, the Rice Thresher made note of this line and others. The paper reported that the speech capped a two-day visit to Houston in which Kennedy toured facilities at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center), and the Thresher referred to the costly nature of the space program by citing the $5.4 billion annual NASA budget, a figure Kennedy also used in the speech.

The number impressed chemist Robert Curl ’54, one of many faculty members at the stadium.

“I came away in wonder that he was seriously proposing this,” said Curl, Rice’s Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences and professor emeritus of chemistry. “It seemed like an enormous amount of money to spend on an exploration program. It was an impressive amount of money back then, and if you adjust for inflation, the Apollo program cost more than the LHC today.”

Curl said Kennedy’s vision paid off for NASA and Houston when Apollo 11 landed on the moon less than eight years later.

Another Rice faculty member in attendance was Ron Sass, fellow in global climate change at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences.

Sass and Curl each said Kennedy’s speech seemed no more remarkable at the time than the 1960 speech by President Eisenhower at Autry Court. Today, Eisenhower’s speech is largely forgotten, and Kennedy’s is still frequently cited in the news.

Sass said part of the enduring appeal of Kennedy’s speech is the magnitude of what he proposed, something Sass said he has come to appreciate more with age.

“It didn’t seem outlandish to me at the time,” Sass said. “I was young, and I thought you could do just about anything.”

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to www.rice.edu/nationalmedia/Rice.pdf.

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About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.