Memo from President John F. Kennedy to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, April 20, 1961
Realizing that the U.S. was losing the space race, President John F. Kennedy urgently instructed Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, to survey where the U.S. stood in space exploration. President Kennedy asked Johnson to identify and intensify specific programs where the U.S. could beat the Soviets.
National Archives and Records Administration, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin, Texas
The Space Race
As an outgrowth of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union began the "space race" in the 1950s. By competing to make important advances in space exploration, both nations sought to advance not only scientific but also political and security objectives. The Soviets launched the first satellite in 1957 and put the first astronaut into orbit in 1961. In response, the House and Senate established science committees and President John F. Kennedy made space exploration a national priority. He recommended to Congress that the U.S. be first to land a man on the moon, an inspiring goal that was achieved in 1969.