Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New JFK Tape on Space

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum has released a brief recording of a conversation Kennedy had with Foy Kohler, his ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Kennedy and Kohler discuss the president's idea to merge the American and Soviet space programs.

As I wrote last May 25, on September 20, 1963, Kennedy addressed the United Nations to propose a joint U.S.-Soviet moon mission that would end the "space race."

President Kennedy proposes a joint U.S.-USSR Moon mission. Click the arrow to watch the video.

Kennedy met on September 18 with NASA Administrator James Webb. The president worried about the Moon program's spiralling costs, and mused about wrapping some sort of military justification around Apollo rather than simply "prestige" which had been the primary justification until now.

This new recording is of a meeting with Ambassador Kohler one day before Kennedy met with Webb.

Click here to listen to the recording.

The museum posted this partial transcript:

President Kennedy: The other thing I talked to him about was space. I don’t know whether we could ever –

Foy Kohler: They were very intrigued by this, Mr. President. I mentioned this when I talked to Gromyko before I left and it was obvious that they were intrigued but a little puzzled by this. I referred to it as a very imagining thing and asked whether they had given any thought to it. He said, well, they agreed it was imaginative. (pause) They’re obviously interested in this – by implication, they are clearly concerned about the cost of these damn things – about a race in space. So Gromyko said, well, it’s a very interesting idea and we would like you to come up with something more definite which we can take a look at. So far, I haven’t been able to consult with all the right people here to see whether anything can be developed.

President Kennedy: I would like to have an agreement on when we both try to go to the moon, then we wouldn’t have this intensive race – I don’t know whether they are going to the moon. Lovell says not.

Kohler: I think maybe he’s right. They have got – you think you have a serious resource distribution problem but believe me, Mr. Khrushchev has a more serious one. The pressure of the claims on a very limited budget must be enormous there and he does refer to it occasionally. Well my military people say one more, my scientist are always wanting more – the pressures must be great when resources are very limited.

The "Lovell" mentioned by Kennedy was Sir Bernard Lovell, a prominent British astronomer who toured the Soviet space program in the summer of 1963. Lovell had met with leaders of the Soviet program, and concluded that a Moon mission was not a priority.

This latest recording is further evidence that, despite mythology today to the contrary, Kennedy was seeking a way out of the space race. He had already approached the Soviets about the idea before his U.N. speech.

The best reference on the subject is John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by Dr. John M. Logsdon. Click here to read my review.

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