The Dark Side of the Moon Race

John F. Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the Moon in the 1960s is remembered as a utopian vision. In reality, it was a purely political project that he soon came to regret.

Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. Public Domain.

The Soviet launch of Sputnik on October 4th, 1957, plunged the American people into black despair. In one dramatic stroke, the Russians had undermined the credibility of the United States as a modern, dynamic nation. Worse still, it seemed that if the Russians could put a satellite into orbit, they could surely fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at American cities with deadly accuracy, a point made repeatedly by Senator Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic frontrunner in the race for the presidency. He warned his fellow Americans that, if they did not wake up to the problem, before long the Russians ‘will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses’.

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