Just three weeks prior to Yuri Gagarin's successful orbit of the earth, John F. Kennedy had told Webb, who had recently been appointed to direct NASA, that he did not plan to further fund the Apollo Project (see Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power, p. 139). Gagarin's feat changed his mind, however, and in May 1961 Webb and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara authored a top-secret memo pointing out that "Major successes such as orbiting a man as the Soviets have just done, lend national prestige even though the scientific, commercial or military value of the undertaking may by ordinary standards be marginal or even economically unjustified" (quoted in Hardesty & Eisman, Epic Rivalry, p. 123).
Having been beaten to space, Kennedy was determined that the United States would not be beaten to the moon, and the present memo shows that he was quite willing to use the specter of the Hammer and Sickle flying on the lunar surface to boost the American effort. Three weeks after sending this memo, 16 November, Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral, where he was given a tour of the facilities by astronauts Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper; a week later, the President was assassinated in Dallas.
The original clippings Kennedy sent with his memo are not present, but they could have come from a myriad of popular or academic sources. By the next year, even Bob Dylan was singing about the Space Race in "I Shall Be Free No. 10." The memo is now accompanied by the front cover from a copy of the March 1958 issue of Saturn Science Fiction and Fantasy illustrating the Romney Boyd story "Red Flag Over the Moon."
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