1964 5¢ Kennedy Memorial
US #1246 was issued for Kennedy’s 47th birthday.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to Congress announcing his plan to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

In October 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite. Alarmed by the potential threat the Soviet technology could pose, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) launched its first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, in January 1958. Later that year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA’s first undertaking, Project Mercury, sought to discover if humans could survive in space.

1967 13¢ Prominent Americans: John F. Kennedy
US #1287 was issued for Kennedy’s 50th birthday.

During his 1961 State of the Union address, President John F. Kennedy offered to cooperate with the Russians in pursuit of space flight, but the premier refused the request. Within months, the reason became evident when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space on April 12. His 108-minute trip made him a hero in the Soviet Union and internationally. Though the US performed a similar feat just three weeks later, it proved the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Race.

2017 First-Class Forever Stamp - President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963)
US #5175 was issued for JFK’s 100th birthday

President Kennedy felt the pressure. America was losing the space race and the implications of Soviet space superiority would mean disaster for the Cold War. After weighing his options and meeting with Vice President Lyndon Johnson and NASA administrator James Webb, Kennedy believed that while landing a man on the moon would be difficult, it was also possible.

So on May 25, 1961, president Kennedy addressed a special joint issue of Congress to announce his ambitious goal. He stated that, “Now it is time to take longer strides – time for a great new American enterprise – time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

1986 22¢ Pres. Kennedy Classic First Day Cover
US #2219h – Classic First Day Cover

Kennedy went on to say that while America may not be the first to reach the moon, if we didn’t try, we would be the last. Then he spoke one of the speech’s most famous lines, “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 the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

2013 Mustique JFK 50th Mem Anniversary
Item #M11261 honors JFK’s role in space exploration.

In addition to landing a man on the moon, Kennedy announced that we needed to develop new fuel boosters, to discern what would work best. He also asked Congress for additional funding for the Rover rocket to explore space beyond the moon as well as space satellites for both communication and weather observation.

Despite the high costs, Congress agreed with Kennedy’s stance and work began immediately on making his vision a reality. Following the success of the Mercury Project, NASA then initiated Project Gemini, to perform experiments and resolve issues involved in moon exploration. The Gemini project proved that not only was it possible for humans to endure long space flights, but also that ships could dock together in space. Project Gemini also yielded extensive medical results on how the weightlessness experienced in space affects humans. Additionally, Project Gemini sent the world’s first space probe to another planet, Venus, in 1962.

1969 10¢ Moon Landing
US #C76 –the engraved master die to this stamp accompanied the astronauts all the way to the moon’s surface.

In addition to exploring space beyond our planet, many advancements and discoveries were made at this time involving satellite transmission. In July 1963, the US launched Syncom-2, a satellite orbiting the earth that showed ordinary citizens could receive satellite transmissions for television broadcasts after a one-time setup.

2019 55¢ First Moon Landing
US #5399-5400 were issued for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing

With one achievement after another, the United States and the Soviet Union continued competing to try to prove who was the world’s leading “space power.” After the success of the Gemini missions, the United States then introduced the Apollo program, aimed at landing a man on the moon. In the interest of ending any hostilities, President Kennedy had proposed in 1963 that the US and USSR create joint programs, sending their astronauts to the moon together. However, the Russian government feared this was simply an attempt to steal Russian space technology, and refused to cooperate. In December 1968, America gained substantial ground in the space race when three of its astronauts successfully became the first to orbit the moon. Following the failed first Soyuz flight in 1967 and the deaths of several top Soviet astronauts, their plans for a moon landing soon fell apart and the program was canceled in 1969.

1994 29¢ Moon Landing, single stamp
US #2841a was issued for the 25th anniversary of the Moon landing.

On July 20, 1969, the US craft Apollo 11 landed the world’s first humans on the moon – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” were witnessed by a worldwide audience of about 500 million – the largest television audience for a live broadcast up to that time.

With this success, the US considered themselves the victors in the space race, although the USSR claimed they “won” when they sent the first person into space years earlier.

Click here to watch and read Kennedy’s speech.

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  1. Growing up during the period known as the cold war was a fearful experience. The threats of communist leader Khruschev were taken seriously and we were mindful always that our most powerful enemy was led by a madman. Somehow the space race was of utmost importance for strategic positioning and our achievements gave us a sense of power and safety. While the objectives have changed and alliances have formed there is criticism of the cost and that space dollars would be more effective spent in other areas. The greatest scientific minds on Earth are and have always been involved in space exploration and its continuation can only bring us closer to the answer to that question that everyone wants to know.

  2. I remember that I watched channel 5 (CBS Walter Crockite) with my family on July 20 1969 Apollo 11’s First Moon Walk by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

  3. In 1957 at age 10 I remember hearing Sputnik I making audible sounds of our car radio. It was fun to watch the United States catch up and surpass the Soviets in the Space Race. Then the U.S. landed the first men on the moon July 20, 1969. This accomplishment represents far more than just winning a race. It demonstrates that seemingly impossible problems can be solved when you bring the best and brightest minds, engineers, technicians, etc together as a team. We have benefited especially in the area of communications and medical technology thanks to the Space Race. A wonderful book is awaiting for someone to publish that will detail all the benefits to mankind as a result of our space exploration. Thanks to Mystic Stamp Company’s “This Day in History” we can remember our space exploration achievements.

  4. One small error, the Eisenhower administration did not create NACA, it was founded on March 3, 1915. It was replaced by NASA on October 1, 1958.

    1. I find it amazing what was done 55 years ago that can’t be replicated today, as we have mission after mission pushed back 2, 3 and 4 years repeatedly. Our 2016 moon efforts won’t probably make it to the moon until 2030. Maybe we should go back to what works?

  5. I was a high school senior when Kennedy gave that speech. I just viewed the exerpt from the link you provided. Now there is a man who talks and acts like a President! Unfortunately, Americans don’t see much of that today.

  6. I appreciate the detail in this history lesson, it is an outstanding update. And, with landing on the moon, President Kennedy absolutely endures his legacy ! Thanks, Mystic !!

  7. Sure, aside from above history lessons remember that day very well. Remembering JFK’s assassination more so. Kennedy was a loose cannon, things took place with Cuba that weren’t very well thought out. Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis and things not in history books. Joined Navy 3 months before Crisis (Jr. In high school, delayed entry). Ship went off to blockade (Tills DE748) and left me at the docks, story of my life lol…

    None the less stamps and covers are well thought out/designed. Recall at Cape Kennedy one time, saw rocket explode on launch pad (Cape Canaveral (sp?). Was there for Polaris Missle testing from John Calhoun. So much for the great minds?

    Rich, regards

  8. I was not aware of our outreach efforts to the Soviet Union. Too bad they did not accept our offer. Also what an important single letter word. One small step for A man. Humility at it’s finest.

  9. Thank you so much for this great article. I remember this day well. And providing a link to actually see and hear JFK make that famous speech was priceless ! Thank you Mystic ! I will always be inspired by listening to Kennedy’s speeches and hearing him talking about our Country as a whole united entity- private citizens, politicians, etc. working together as one. I doubt if we will ever hear that concept again.
    Thank you again .

  10. Thank you this is great information I am working on a one frame exhibit “The four Stamps of Apollo” abut the four stamps that came about from the Apollo missions and I can use these stamps in the exhibit also. Thanks again!
    Duncan Murray

  11. Great article. I remember the landing on TV, watching with my family in the den of our home. A really big deal, rather awe inspiring, especially to a kid. The old fashioned TV set would make today’s younger “flat screen” generation chuckle. Maybe a little blurry but you could make out things. Also remember in pop culture, before the landing, speculation and anticipation as to what Neil Armstrong’s first words would be when he set foot on the surface. He did not disappoint.

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