Before This Decade Is Out
After all the attention given to space in his campaign, Kennedy hardly mentioned the matter in his inaugural address. He concentrated instead on foreign affairs, rousing the American people with a call to arms, which, through brilliant writing, managed to sound like a noble crusade. The only mention of space came halfway through the speech when Kennedy expressed his regret at the way the Cold War had divided the world. He offered the Soviets some vague areas in which cooperation and trust might be fostered. “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors,” he urged. “Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”1
For the nervous types at NASA, and many were nervous in January 1961, that statement fell far short of what they had expected from the new president. He had, after all, relentlessly hammered Eisenhower over the space issue, therefore it was reasonable to expect that he would set out bold new plans. What exactly did “explore the stars” mean? That could be done with a telescope from Sears. And what did he mean by “together”? Was the president seriously thinking that the United States might cooperate with the Soviets? What was the point in that?
When NASA submitted its 1962 financial year proposals to the Bureau of Budget in May 1960, Eisenhower discovered, supposedly for the first time, that the agency had long-term plans for a lunar landing. Somewhat worried by this revelation, he asked his science adviser George Kistiakowsky to critique NASA's manned spaceflight proposals. Kistiakowsky, who worried that Mercury would be “the most expensive funeral a man has ever had,”2 formed a six-man committee, headed by Brown University chemistry professor Donald Hornig. The report, completed on December 16, 1960, made sobering reading. Hornig and his colleagues showed no symptoms of rocket fever.