With the 50th anniversary of the milestone event less than three months away, U.S. presidential historian and bestselling author Douglas Brinkley visited the Upper School for a discussion of his newest book — American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race — on Thursday, April 25.
Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
Seven of Brinkley’s publications have become New York Times bestsellers: The Reagan Diaries, The Great Deluge, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, Voices of Valor: D-Day: June 6, 1944 (with Ronald J. Drez), The Wilderness Warrior, Cronkite, and Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America.
He focused his lecture and Q & A on JFK’s ambitious goal — and the president’s announcement on May 25, 1961 — to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
“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 we intend to win,” Kennedy said.
And it was that same pledge posted on the big board at NASA as an homage to JFK — when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins had returned safely to Earth on Apollo 11 after landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.
“Under it,” said Brinkley, “were written the words: ‘Task accomplished.’”
At Arlington National Cemetery, too, Brinkley explained, someone left a card on JFK’s gravesite: “Mr. President, the Eagle has landed.”
“Everyone had pulled together to fulfill this extraordinary idea he had that we could do it,” Brinkley said.