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New JFK Tapes Show Doubts About Going for the Moon

Today's the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy urging Congress to put a man on the moon before the decade is out.

The JFK Library has released a new batch of tapes of Kennedy speaking with NASA head Jim Webb, still expressing doubts about it all.

Webb tries to tell him how excited high school students are about the mission, but JFK is worried more about whether it will become a re-election campaign issue.

Webb:...I've been in 17 states with high school students in places where you have had a whole high school full of people -

JFK: What's unfortunate would be, ah, as I say, maybe the Russians will have this thing but we don't have anything coming up now for the next 14 months. So I'm going into the campaign to defend this program, we won't have had anything for a year and a half. (break) If we're cut by that amount to 5 billion, 150, we're going to, say, slip, a year.

Webb: We will slip at least a year, which means that if we run into any serious trouble we're - we don't want to be thinking about-

JFK: If I get re-elected, I'm not - we're not - go to the moon in my - in our period are we?

Webb: Ah, no, you're not going.

JFK: We're not going...yeah.

Webb: You'll fly by it probably.

JFK: I'm not going personally, but it won't be done while we're-

Webb: No, no. We'll have worked to fly by though while you're President but it's just going to take longer than that. This is a tough job, a real tough job. But I will tell you what will be accomplished while we're President and it will be one of the most important things that's been done in this nation. A basic need to use technology for total national power. That's going to come out of this space program more than any single thing.

JFK: What's that again?

Webb: A basic ability in this nation to use science and very advanced technologies to increase national power - our economy all the way through.

Throughout, JFK sounds skeptical and only half-attuned to the conversation. But the tapes are much clearer than many of the Kennedy tapes, so as always they're worth a listen just to hear the Oval Office at work.

Second clip:

Final clip:

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