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Do Now

President Kennedy inspired a generation of scientists with his mission to be the first country to go to the Moon. Does your generation have a “Moon mission”, and if so, what does it look like? If not, what should it look like?


Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. Although his life was cut short, his legacy of supporting civil rights and American technological advancement still resonates today.

Perhaps President Kennedy’s most famous program was his decision to fund a program that would make American astronauts the first to land on and explore the moon’s surface. In a famous 1961 speech at Rice University, the president explained his ambitious goal of sending an American to the Moon’s surface before the end of the decade.

“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon…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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

At the time, the U.S. was engaged in the “space race” with the Soviet Union (USSR) – a technological race to become the dominant superpower in space exploration. The USSR had already beaten the U.S. twice before by sending both the first object (the satellite Sputnik in 1957) and the first human (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961) into space.

The space race and Kennedy’s speech inspired a generation of young Americans to pursue careers and engineering and technology, ultimately helping to make the U.S. a leader in these fields today. Homer Hickam, a student in the 1960s who went on to become a NASA engineer, wrote about the effects of the space race on his life and the lives of others living in mountainous West Virginia in his popular memoir “Rocket Boys”, which was later turned into the film October Sky.

Although President Kennedy died the very next year, his dream continued to live on, and on July 21, 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon’s surface.

Do you think there is a cause or mission today that inspires young people to take on new challenges and learn new skills and technology to better the country and the world? If so, what does it look like? If not, what should it look like?


Plasma Ben video John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Speech at Rice University
As we sit at the precipice of a new era of exploration, I thought it appropriate to revisit the original inspiration and rationale for the first lunar exploration program as so eloquently stated by John F. Kennedy. The original speech by JFK was held in Houston, TX at the Rice Stadium in the fall of 1962. Skip to 8:00 to watch the essential part of the speech.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowJFK

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

PBS NewsHour Extra article The Legacy of President John F. Kennedy – 50 Years Later
This November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Although his young life was tragically cut short, he left behind a legacy of excellence that would lead a country to the moon, unite a nation over the fight for racial equality, set a new course for the U.S. on the path of international diplomacy and radically alter the way that young Americans saw themselves and what they could accomplish. His spirit lives on today through his words and actions that continue to inspire people from all over the world.

PBS LearningMedia Resource Guide The Legacy of President John F Kennedy
This nine-part guide compiles the best John F. Kennedy resources on the internet, and will inspire students to explore the legacy of one of our greatest presidents.

PBS American Experience film JFK
Scheduled for broadcast around the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, this biography provides a fresh look at an enigmatic man who has become one of the nation’s most beloved and most mourned leaders. The newest addition to The Presidents collection, the documentary explores Kennedy’s childhood years as the overlooked second son of a multimillionaire exploding with ambition, his early political career as a lackluster congressman, his subsequent successful run for senate, and the election victory that turned him into the youngest elected president in U.S. history.

KQED Do Now is produced in collaboration with PBS NewsHour Extra. This post was written by Allison McCartney of PBS NewsHour Extra.

What is This Generation’s Moon Mission? 8 March,2017Matthew Williams

  • brian l

    @KQEDedspace I believe that this generation has no real moon mission. We have goals we want to achieve but people are not in a hurry. During the moon mission we were constantly making big leaps towards reaching our goals but today we are slowly making progress compared to how fast it came during the moon mission. #DoNowJFK

  • Colby Rog

    While space may not be the same that it was then, the exploration of space remains a popular goal. Kids today still dream of being astronauts, but today we face a different kindve race, a more medical one. In the generation that will soon become the people of the world, the search for a cure to HIV, AIDS and cancer seem to be the replacement of the space race. President Obama as well as other global leaders have already defined the search for cures to be one of the most prominent issues today and it will no doubt be up to the future generations to take it upon themselves to find a cure.



Matthew Williams

Matthew Williams is a filmmaker and media educator who has recently transplanted to Oakland from Los Angeles. He believes that you are what you eat and feels everyone should have a multitude of dietary options for self-realization. Matthew is the Educational Technologist at KQED.

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