While the political implications of the moon landing are in a category with events following the discovery of Columbus—as elusive to us at the moment as the significance of the New World to Ferdinand and Isabella then—the decision announced by John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961, initiating the expedition, is now documented in full for future students of history. To John Logsdon, whose approach is that of a political scientist examining the influence of men and events on the decision making process, the decision to land a man on the moon “before this decade is out” was wholly political rather than military, although overtones of implied defense were useful in obtaining congressional support. Moreover, he notes it was made without the support of influential segments of the scientific community.
Although the success of the first manned orbital flight by Soviet Cosmonaut Gagarin and the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion certainly influenced the timing, in the author's interpretation, the Kennedy decision escaped being only a narrow public relations exhibition. In Kennedy's view, he emphasizes, the security of the country itself was inseparably linked to a preeminent position of prestige in world opinion. Nor was he a particular enthusiast of space exploration for its own rewards. As he remarked to one of his advisors, “If you had a scientific spectacular on this earth that would be more useful—say desalting the ocean—or something just as dramatic and convincing as space, then we would do that.”
The thoroughness of this book as a historical record is evident throughout. NASA historical records and government documents not previously released, including several Presidential papers, are used in the analysis, and the author weaves these records together with subtleties of opinion from interviews with NASA officials and such Kennedy advisors as Theodore Sorenson, McGeorge Bundy, David Bell, and Jerome Wiesner.