July 6, 2016

Thinking Back on Kennedy’s Space Race as Juno Reaches Jupiter

by Amy Yen, Marketing Manager, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

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Juno program managers celebrate after Juno successfully placed into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Over the holiday weekend, NASA’s Juno probe finally arrived into orbit around Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, after a five year journey. Scientists are hoping the information it transmits will help us understand not only the enormous gas planet, but also the building blocks of life on our planet and others.

While Juno is not the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter, it will come the closest—plans call for it to go within 3,000 miles of Jupiter’s radiation-laden clouds, in order to learn about what lies under the swirling gases. As we reach another milestone in our quest to continue exploring space, it’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come since President John F. Kennedy challenged the U.S. space program to commit itself to the space race in 1961.

President John F. Kennedy peers into the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule with astronaut John Glenn while touring Cape Canaveral in Florida in February 1962. Credit: NASA
President John F. Kennedy peers into the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule with astronaut John Glenn while touring Cape Canaveral in Florida in February 1962. Credit: NASA

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” he told Congress on May 25 of that year. With additional funding secured, within months, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom became the first Americans to travel into space. By the next year, John Glenn Jr. became the first American to orbit Earth.

Fueled by this success, in 1969, six years after his death, President Kennedy’s goal was achieved, when Apollo 11 astronauts finally walked on the moon. Kennedy’s dedication to the exploration of space fueled the development and expansion of NASA, and remains one of his most inspiring legacies.

In the coming weeks, as the long-awaited images of Jupiter are released from Juno, it’s a good time to think back on President Kennedy’s bold challenge 55 years ago, which kick-started a space race that is still going today.

Watch our panel discussion on the space race, presented with Fort Worth Opera, to learn more.