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John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology) Hardcover – December 15, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0230110106 ISBN-10: 023011010X
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Space policy was not an issue in the 1960 presidential election won by John Kennedy, who until April 1961 exhibited little interest in it. Then Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth. Logsdon recounts what ensued in this meticulous tracking of Kennedy’s decision to launch America toward the moon. Focusing on bureaucratic and budgetary aspects, Logsdon reasonably concludes that JFK’s decision was politically rational, though the evidence Logsdon adduces also could support the view that JFK acted hastily, out of motivation to restore his and America’s prestige. He certainly was unlike Eisenhower, who cared little about image and who favored fiscally sustainable progress in space technology, not an impetuous moon program that ultimately had no follow-through. As these rival interpretations vie for the reader’s loyalty, Logsdon’s narrative details JFK’s subsequent decisions related to the Apollo program’s budget, the political derby to win its installations, and futile gestures to entice Soviet participation in the adventure. For the inside facts about JFK’s instigation of the lunar missions, Logsdon, often seen in documentaries and television news about space, is the definitive authority. --Gilbert Taylor


“Echoes of this time lift off the pages of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, a new book by John M. Logsdon, a political scientist and longtime space policy specialist at George Washington University. He has drawn on new research in archives, oral histories and memoirs available in recent years to shed new light on the moon race.”—The New York Times
“Some say that Kennedy conceived of the race to the moon principally to recover from the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs. John Logsdon, the doyen of American space studies, takes a more generous view in his new book. Kennedy was not especially interested in space, and said as much in private. But after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit he believed it to be vital for America to take on and beat the Soviets at something very hard. The moon fitted this need like a glove. Planting a man on its surface required no big technological innovations, says Mr. Logsdon, ‘just very expensive mastery over nature using the scientific and technological knowledge available in 1961.’”—The Economist

“Logsdon charts the evolution of JFK’s thinking about space—including repeated offers as president to cooperate with the Soviets—from his senatorial career up until the assassination. He chronicles the intergovernmental struggle for consensus and highlights the policymaking contributions of presidential aide Ted Sorensen, science advisor Jerome Wiesner, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and NASA administrator James Webb.”—Kirkus

“For the inside facts about JFK’s instigation of the lunar missions, Logsdon, often seen in documentaries and television news about space, is the definitive authority.”—Booklist
“A new account by John Logsdon, an eminent historian of the space program.”—The Washington Monthly
“In a time when America is looking for another ‘Sputnik Moment’ to spur the country on a number of fronts, this scholarly and well-written look at the nation’s ‘Apollo Moment’ captures presidential decision-making stemming from the heat of the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Readers will find this book a treasured resource. Logsdon’s devotion to this book is visible through and through – including an invaluable and insightful set of notes for each chapter. Beyond the U.S. President, you’ll find a landscape of people that also helped shape that “one small step” off planet. A must-read.”—The Coalition for Space Exploration
In John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, historian John Logsdon examines the political forces that shaped space policy in the tragically brief tenure of the Kennedy Administration. Logsdon is returning to familiar ground: in 1970 he published The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest, one of the first books to examine the rationale for embarking on such a risky, expensive endeavor. Why revisit the topic now? As Logsdon notes in the book’s preface, a lot of key documents from that era have been released in the intervening years; the 1970 book had been based primarily on interviews with key players and secondary sources, with the research mostly completed prior to Apollo 11 itself. And, just as important, the perspective that four decades of distance provides offers a new perspective on the events of that era and their aftermath.—The Space Review

“A comprehensive and insightful retrospect of the conception and early days of Project Apollo. Space aficionados will see immediate parallels between President Kennedy’s  thought processes and the space policy debates of today.”—Neil Armstrong, Commander, Apollo 11

“In contrast to the hesitations, reconsiderations, and cancellations that have plagued recent U.S. activities in space, President John F. Kennedy’s shining May 25, 1961, challenge to send humans to the Moon remains a beacon of national resolve. John M. Logsdon’s review of the whole history of President Kennedy’s civil space policy, especially events after the May 25 speech, reveals the special circumstances that kept the lunar goal on track. Hesitation arose, but Kennedy’s pragmatism ultimately prevailed.  Logsdon explains why.  With this insightful analysis, Logsdon demonstrates again why he remains the dean of space policy historians.”—Howard E. McCurdy, Professor of Public Policy, American University and University of Washington, and author of Space and the American Imagination

“John Logsdon’s book is a high quality scholarly work, deeply researched, but also an easy read. It is an insightful history of JFK’s decision to use the space program and especially the Apollo lunar landing project as a rational Cold War response to the perceived ‘missile gap’ and the Soviet space challenges of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s flight.”—Bill Anders, Astronaut, Apollo 8, and Executive Secretary, National Aeronautics and Space Council, 1969-1972

“One of the definitive political histories of the quest to put a man on the Moon.”—Matthew Brzezinski, author of Red Moon Rising

John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon provides a comprehensive, insider’s account of one of the most important and far-reaching policy decisions of the Kennedy administration. It is a masterful case study of presidential decision making.”— Professor Steven J. Wayne, Presidential Scholar, Georgetown University

“An extraordinary book on the genesis of Project Apollo . . . Indeed, the first clear and definitive account of the pivotal role played by John F. Kennedy in shaping the American space program. How President Kennedy reached his fateful decision to enter the space race to reach the Moon is now told fully in an insightful and authoritative way.”—Von Hardesty, Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum


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Product Details

  • Series: Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology
  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (December 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023011010X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230110106
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Smith on March 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was delighted to find Dr. Logsdon's book on this subject. I've written many articles on my blog about the true history behind President Kennedy's decision to propose the Moon mission. Dr. Logsdon's book confirmed everything I'd found in my own research, and provided a wealth of new information that deepened my understanding of the era.

What was the real reason the United States went to the Moon?

It boils down to the mistaken perception that because the Soviet Union had a rocket capable of lifting more weight, they also had a nuclear weapon capable of inflicting more damage than any American counterpart. This was totally wrong; the truth was the Soviets built a much heavier device because they didn't have American technology to build it lighter.

But when the USSR launched Sputnik I and II in 1957, and subsequent launches in the late 1950s that placed in orbit heavier payloads than U.S. capability at the time, Americans panicked and mistakenly assumed this meant the Soviets could hit the U.S. with a bigger bomb than anything in the U.S. arsenal. President Eisenhower knew better and therefore didn't give space launches much of a priority. Project Mercury, begun under the Eisenhower administration in 1958, was intended to put a single man in space, but beyond that there was no real plan or intent to explore, much less go to the Moon. It was primarily research to determine if a human could survive in space flight, most likely for military purposes because it was assumed the Soviets would probably do the same.

Enter John F. Kennedy, an ambitious presidential candidate.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There is an irony that on the twilight of America's desire to send men into space from American soil; that we read in John Logsdon's book the little known fact that Kennedy hoped Russia and the United States would work together in space. This book is a readable textbook on Kennedy's decision to send a man to the moon. It also has the impressive recommendation of Neil Armstrong, something one does not see very often, as an insightful retrospection.
There is a lack of pictures, a few black and white are scattered through the text, more would have been of great interest. This book adds new material to his 1970 work, `The Decision to go to the Moon'.
He does not miss pointing out that there was not too much interest on Kennedy's part in space or NASA before his election or in the beginning of his term in office.

Much of the book tells of the political appointments and political maneuvering that went on in creating the decisions regarding the space program. Technical and political activities, with the background of world events, give the steps that led to the decision to go to the moon. The memorandums and the ideas of NASA officials and scientists are explained, as well as comparisons of world reactions to Soviet space flights and the `openness' of America's and the `humility' of American astronauts.
Included is the not well remembered, less than enthusiastic reception of Kennedy's "we choose to go the the moon" speech in front of congress.
The speeches given in congress in 1961 and the one in 1962 at Rice University are often confused and even melded together. Logsdon clears up those ideas and famous phrases.
What is missing from the seemingly all inclusive gathering of information are the reactions and general opinions of the American people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Fairleigh Brooks on May 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, this book is for space cadets, or possibly for someone interested in American history as a whole who wishes to get a better understanding of the years from 1961 to about 1964. It is in many ways an update of Logsdon's 1970 "The Decision to Go to The Moon," but "John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon" stands alone as an account of those times regarding US space efforts. To be honest, I had to get through the first thirty pages before I could see this book working, but it indeed does work, especially for the keenly interested.

As I opened the first pages I was already familiar enough with the early days of the US space program and the role John Kennedy played. But when I finished this book I realized what I had known, though accurate, was only a sketch of those times. Logsdon skillfully added dimension, texture, historic fact and people to what I knew.

For example, I hadn't known Kennedy approached the Soviet Union about a joint lunar program, or just how much of a memorial to Kennedy Apollo became. Consider that the moment Kennedy was declared dead there was no way the US was not going to make the lunar attempt, no way the resources needed to meet the deadline would not be forthcoming; but as Kennedy's limo began its route in Dallas that day the chances of a moon shot by the deadline (or perhaps ever) were maybe 50/50.

I gained a better understanding of what Kennedy wanted to accomplish with Apollo, and just how he caught the wave of history at that moment to put forth this challenge, As Logsdon, and others in reference, concludes, the early 1960s saw a conjunction of events, people, expectations and optimism that is unlikely to happen again. I also gained a better understanding of why, after putting twelve human beings on the moon, we never went back.
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