Speaking to the US Congress, he pledged that the United States “should commit to achieving the goal, before the end of this decade, of landing a man on the moon and bringing him back safe and sound. Earth “.
While today seen as the proclamation of a visionary and ambitious patriot who wanted to engage his nation in an act that would represent the pinnacle of human achievement, he was at the time supreme only in his arrogance and pride.
At the time, the United States was in trouble. While she was still the world’s first superpower, she a priori clung to this coat with her fingertips. The USSR was at this point beating the Americans in the so-called space race by a comfortable margin. He had launched the first satellite into space, the first mammal and the first human being in the form of Yuri Gagarin who had completed his historic first orbit of the planet a few weeks earlier.
The idea of landing a man on the moon and taking him home was pure science fiction at this point. Alan Shepard had imitated Gagarin three weeks before Kennedy’s speech but did not orbit the planet, instead he escaped from Earth’s atmosphere for a few moments in a flight that lasted less than 16 minutes in total.
But JFK’s vision and the political pressure that followed to avoid losing face to the Russians ultimately led Neil Armstrong to set foot on the moon just over seven years later, an achievement that no other nation has seen. earth could never reproduce. When the human species puts itself in a certain way, it is capable of innovations so extraordinary that it looks like magic.
In 1758, West Yorkshire businessmen obtained an Act of Parliament to build wooden rails to help carriages transport coal from a local mine. In 1812, the Middleton
The railway became the first commercial railway to successfully use steam locomotives and, thanks to the incredible efficiency offered by this new form of transport, Leeds was one of the most prosperous cities in Europe.
These achievements were driven largely by humans’ need to be more successful and earn more money than their rivals, but nonetheless advanced the capacity for what humans could achieve by dozens, sometimes hundreds of people. years.
However, what will probably motivate us the most in the decades to come will be another kind of self-interest. The race to net zero will be a challenge that makes the idea of sending a man to the moon seem like a fairly straightforward request. It will require the renovation of housing, a transport revolution and major changes in the behavior of individuals.
However, the good news is that unlike NASA, we are not at the start. Just a few years ago, we were trapped in a helpless narrative that told us there was no alternative to cars powered by fossil fuels.
We are now in a situation where the electric car market is so strong that the UK government plans to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by the end of the decade. Yorkshire has the skills and geography to play a real part in this journey, as well as the ambition in some quarters. But he will need more than these elements if he is to be a pioneer on this front.
It will need the leadership and visionary zeal that JFK has shown in both demanding the impossible and providing the resources to make it a reality.
As he told Rice University in Houston a few months after his speech to Congress: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy. , but because they are difficult; because this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because this challenge is a challenge that we are ready to accept, one that we do not want to postpone and one that we intend to win .
While I’m not suggesting that Yorkshire or even Britain is likely to produce another JFK, I can live in hope, knowing that belief in what we can do has been the driving force behind humanity.