#tbt - JFK’s Dream Achieved: Science, Tech and Middletown industry send the first man to the moon.
In the annals of American history, one American president stands alone as the G-force behind the nation’s race to Space.
His dream became reality thanks to a fascinated populace, an army of scientists and engineers, and progressive industries like Middletown, Ohio’s Aeronca Inc. and Armco Steel, both of which played a major role in America’s historic Moon landing 50 years ago this July.
The American Space race began on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy issued the clarion call for an American footprint on the Moon. The Commander-In-Chief, who would turn 44 years of age four days later, proclaimed:
“...I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth... ” (1) *
An Associated Press account of Kennedy’s speech appeared in newspapers around the country, including the Middletown, Ohio Journal. The president discussed several important and timely topics but his exhortation to win the Space race remains the most memorable part of his address:
“Let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action – a course that will last for many years and carry very heavy costs – an estimated $7 to $9 billion over the next five years. If we were to go only halfway, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, it would be better not to go at all...,” Kennedy stated.(2)
Kennedy’s extraterrestrial goal was a “blunt notice to the Soviet Union that this country intends to make a contest of the race to the Moon and planets,” the AP article reported.
It quoted the President : “For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to share this effort will make us last. Space is open to us now and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others.” (2)
Years later, in its own “Brief History,” NASA confirmed that Kennedy’s plan was indeed “a direct response to Soviet successes in Space.” Perhaps the best known was the Soviet launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, “Sputnik 1,” in 1957. (3)
The Sputnik launch “had a ‘Pearl Harbor’ effect on American public opinion,” the NASA history recalled. It created “an illusion of a technological gap and provided the impetus for increased spending for aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development.” (3)
Ultimately, the American response was Project Apollo, NASA’s mission to the Moon. (3)
President Kennedy “used Apollo as a high-profile effort for the U.S. to demonstrate to the world its scientific and technological superiority over its Cold War adversary,” the NASA history continued. (3)
Kennedy’s dream became reality on July 20, 1969, when Ohioan Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot upon the Moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission.
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” proclaimed Armstrong upon making his first step.
Later, he and fellow Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin explored the lunar surface while Astronaut Michael Collins remained in the spacecraft.
Back in Middletown, “Emotions were riding high at Aeronca, Inc...,” where “employees, who helped develop the brazed honey-comb panels on the Apollo 11 command module that guard the astronauts against the intense temperatures of Outer Space, have a lot riding on today’s Moon shot...Without the panels, there would have been no launching today,” an Aeronca official said. (4)
The local connecion to Apollo 11 was even more special because the steel used to make the panels came from Middletown’s Armco Steel Corporation.
Sadly, President Kennedy didn’t live to witness the country’s greatest aeronautic achievement. He died on November 22, 1963, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.
Instead, the honor of speaking with Moon walkers Armstrong and Aldrin “via radio telephone radio transmission” fell to President Richard Nixon. He described the call as “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.” (5)
(1) ”May 25, 1961 : JFK’s Moon Shot Speech to Congress”
(2) Front page of the Middletown Journal May 25, 1961. “JFK Asks Billions More for Freedom – All-Out Space Try Mapped” (pictured above)
(3) ”A Brief History of NASA” https://history.nasa.gov/factsheet.htm
(4) Middletown Journal, July 16, 1969. “Aeronca Got Near Perfection for Moonship” by Staff Writer Fred Sennet. Available for viewing on microfilm at MidPointe Library-Middletown (see below)
(5) ”The 1969 Moon Landing.” History.com https://www.history.com/topics/space-exploration/moon-landing-1969
Middletown Journal articles referenced in this article are available for viewing on microfilm at MidPointe Library’s Middletown location and online via: www.midpointelibrary.org > eLibrary > Research databases > Magazines and Newspapers > Newspaper Archive > Middletown Journal
The color photo of President Kennedy and other dignitaries is from “John F. Kennedy and NASA” available at “https://www.nasa.gov/feature/john-f-kennedy-and-nasa
The photo of President John F. Kennedy giving his “Moon Shot” speech May 25, 1961 can be found on Google images.