Did JFK propose a joint U.S.-Soviet flight to the moon?

JFK speaks to the UN on Sept. 20, 1963. (UN photo credit, Teddy Chen.)


Yes. It happened on September 20, 1963, according to History.com. It is one of the lesser known but more important events in the last months of President Kennedy’s life and presidency.

In the fall of 1963, JFK was on a political roll. His approval ratings had climbed. He had overcome the grumbling of the Pentagon and all but secured Senate ratification of the popular Limited Test Ban Treaty, banning nuclear explosions in space. Then he went to New York to say something daring.

In a speech at the United Nations, Kennedy proposed that the Soviet Union and United States cooperate in mounting a mission to the moon.

“Why,” he asked the audience, “should man’s first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition?”

“The clouds have lifted a little” in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations, he noted, declaring “The Soviet Union and the United States, together with their allies, can achieve further agreements — agreements which spring from our mutual interest in avoiding mutual destruction.”

“The idea that America would cooperate with the Soviets in sending a man to the moon seemed unbelievable,” says History.com.

Not to JFK. He thought competing systems of government could cooperate on peaceful projects that benefited all people. This was one expression of JFK’s “strategy for peace” that he offered in his famous American University speech three months before.

This visionary idea, like so many others, died in Dallas.

(If anybody has newspaper clippings about JFK’s Sept. 20 speech, please share!)

23 thoughts on “Did JFK propose a joint U.S.-Soviet flight to the moon?”

  1. Of what significance was Khrushchev’s decision in November 1963 to accept Kennedy’s proposal for a joint U.S.-Soviet lunar mission?

  2. Two years prior, on September 25 1961, JFK delivers a speech on disarmament at the UN in which he states: “The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us…It is therefore our intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race–to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved.”

    JFK Address at U.N. General Assembly, 25 September 1961 – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/DOPIN64xJUGRKgdHJ9NfgQ.aspx#.VNrC8MNrdBI.twitter

    1. Thanks David. The whole idea of disarmament at that time was incredibly radical. JFK was unique, I think.

      Photon, I would still like to hear your views on the joint moon shot idea. Would you have been happy if the US had not got there first?

  3. I am not sure why this is such a big deal- nor why it seems to be some new discovery.
    I remember the Life ( or was it Look?) issue that had an article discussing this proposal, including illustrations. The one that stands out in my memory was a view of an American LEM-type spacecraft( as it was termed then) piloted by a lone American astronaut flying up to rendezvous with a Soviet Apollo-like spacecraft with two cosmonauts. It was basically the American LOR plan grafted on what was assumed to be superior and available Soviet equipment. At the time the general public thought that the Soviets were far ahead in spaceflight and that they were probably going to reach the moon first anyway. There were already rumblings about cost at the time; cooperation seemed a possible solution. However, the Soviet leadership felt that they were far ahead and didn’t feel the need to bring along an American on a Soviet show-I am sure that JFK and NASA were aware of that ; from a practical standpoint the White House knew that the proposal would go nowhere, but had great PR value.
    The truth was that after Vostok the Soviet program had very nebulous goals and little room for growth. The Soviet LOR concept was not even finalized at the time and was more wishful thinking than any concrete plan. The follow-on Voshkod program was nothing but Vostok capsules with extra seats, suitable only for ” space spectaculars” with no practical applications.
    If JFK really wanted to cooperate with the Soviets he would have proposed routine and achievable measures such as mutual rescue techniques, communication sharing,technical exchanges with personnel at the management level. As even the location of the Soviet launch facilities were a state secret ( nowhere near Baikonur as claimed) JFK knew that a grandiose Moon plan was a nonstarter.
    So what was the big deal?

    1. ummm…perhaps the fact that in the height of the Cold War, JFK was taking steps towards nuclear disarmament and rapproachment with Cuba and the Soviets (all of which ended under Johnson). If only LBJ could have exercised equal vision on foreign affairs..

    2. Hello Photon

      I have to ask, are you being serious when you propose that it was no big deal for the USA and USSR to work together on a trip to the moon? The two ideologies were competing ferociously at the time, whenever and wherever they could, for hearts and minds and power of all types (military, political, territorial, soft and hard). And let’s be frank there was a lot of genuine dislike, if not hate, of the Soviets particularly on the right of politics. The idea of such sworn enemies at the height of the Cold War co-operating on a moon venture still shocks me. It is a shocking proposal and a visionary one. Some might even say that the whole point of the space race was to prove that Capitalism was a better system than Communism (and vice versa).

      The transfer of technology that would have had to occur under this proposal would have been astounding. I don’t see how the military of either side could have agreed to it.

      So you’re saying that JFK goes to the UN (no less) and makes a public offer to the USSR that he expects to be rejected. Couldn’t that have been perceived as putting the USA in an embarrassing position vis a vis the Soviet Union in the Cold War? Or is it more likely that JFK goes to the UN to make a proposal that is the embodiment of his new approach to the Soviet Union (and peace) as outlined in his American University speech? Which one makes more sense to you?

      C’mon Photon, it really won’t kill you to say something good about JFK. I promise. 🙂 

      1. The proposal was no big deal, nor was it even JFK’s idea. The plan was written up with illustrations in Life or Look magazine months before this speech. I clearly remember that no one took it seriously, particularly the Soviets, who were on a roll and considered far ahead.
        You seem to have forgotten that at the time the Soviet space program was a State Secret with no TV coverage of launches or returns. Even the location of the launch facility was a secret and the facility was named for a city dozens of miles away. Powers’ U-2 mission included surveillance of the facility. The Soviets had no intention of giving any information about the program to the US at the time; as I recall the Soviet response hinted at suspicions that the proposal was an attempt to gain access to superior Soviet space technology. Even a decade later during the ASTP initial cooperation attempts were frustrated by Soviet security concerns; they even wanted to keep the American astronauts away from the launch facilities and have only limited views of the Soyuz capsule. Only when Gen. Stafford stated that he would never fly if he didn’t have familiarity with the vehicle he was trusting his life to and threatened the entire project did the Soviets relent-somewhat.
        JFK and His staff were aware that the proposal would go nowhere, but it had good propaganda value, particularly in comparing NASA’s completely open program with the secret Soviet one.
        That’s about it for this historical curiosity .

        1. Photon, if you check my January 14 post at 10:23pm, you will see US Dept of State link that shows this proposal had been on JFK’s agenda since taking office. According to Kruschev’s son, his father was taking the proposal seriously.

          Is it your opinion the hardliners of each government would be agreeable to this?

          Do you also think it not to be a big deal that JFK had secretly reached out to the Soviets in January 1963 to find a peaceful solution to the war in Vietnam?

        2. Hi Photon

          You just cannot bring yourself to do it, can you Photon? 🙂 You just cannot say anything good about Kennedy even to demonstrate your disinterested political approach to the JFK assassination.

          I hate to mention this but everything was a State Secret in the Soviet Union at that time – everything. They probably had no TV coverage because they didn’t have the technology to even do live TV or were scared in case the thing crashed and damaged the morale of the glorious workers! Or even more likely they were scared that the one thing they could do that wasn’t a complete stuff up would get nicked off them by the Americans.

          That’s right, because after Churchill’s ‘an iron curtain has fallen across Europe’ speech in 1946 (!) the world was deluded into thinking the Soviets were open and transparent and the USA needed to conduct pointless propaganda, like offering a joint moon shot, to convince people they weren’t.

          Of course, JFK got all his best ideas from Look or Life. When the journo’s came over to do all those glamour shots with Jackie and her pearls they gave JFK tips on how to run the world. The ‘pax Americana’ speech came from the lifestyles section – didn’t you know?

          As for the factual basis for my comments please see David’s post a couple of comments up. Thanks for that David and apologies to all for the festival of sarcasm but I seem to be p*ssing everyone else off this weekend, so why not Photon too? 🙂

          1. My reply had nothing to do with what my personal opinions in regard to JFK were and everything to do with historical accuracy.

          2. Hi Photon

            Well I think Jeff and David have posted the historical facts of this issue. The offer was made and it appears JFK had it on his mind from the beginning of his Presidency.

            The offer to cooperate flies in the face of the times and was completely unique to Kennedy. He deserves credit for it.

            I’m sure you were a highly intelligent little boy and maybe you’re right that no-one else took it seriously. But all that really matters is that JFK and Kruschev took it seriously and the evidence indicates that they did.

        3. Okay Photon

          But can I ask what you actually think/thought of the proposal and whether you think it would have been a good idea (or not) if the USSR and USA had gone to the moon together?

  4. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

    Lesser known? Yes it. Why?

    And why is it never mentioned on SO CALLED “left”? Wouldn’t the moves towards detente that JFK and Khrushchev were making in the Summer and Fall of 1963 be of natural interest to the left, given their concern with corporate influence on government and the Military Industrial Congressional Complex?

    But that would suggest possible connections between the assassination and the structural changes which some are paid to keep a safe abstraction.

    And if these “structural realities of capitalism are kept separate from political assassinations, then the legitimacy of big media, which so many of these “Alternative” media outlets claim to abhor, might be preserved, because these big media corporations would never be faced with the legitimation crisis that any widely read exploration of big media’s collaboration with the Assassination Cover-up would entail.

    Foundations funding “Alternative? ” Media? Makes a lot of sense if it’s quid pro quo Alternative.

  5. Joint Moon Project Proposed by JFK: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1906&dat=19630917&id=rOEfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Q9kEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1609%2C904728

    The U.S. Proposal That Caught the Russians Off Guard 50 Years Ago http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/the-u-s-proposal-that-caught-the-russians-off-guard-50-years-ago-20130920?ref=t.co&mrefid=walkingheader via @nationaljournal

    It should be noted that this bold initiative had been on JFK’s agenda since February 1961 – U.S. Department of State

    1. It should also be noted that Kruschev’s son said his dad thought about it and was going to publicly accept the invitation for a joint U.S-Soviet moon mission before Kennedy’s assassination thwarted the initiative.

  6. The Powers that run countries often benefit psychologically and economically from public fear that they’re at risk because of outsiders i.e., “enemies.” It’s best to distract from self-reflection and issues within. Thus another threat Kennedy posed to the establishment.

  7. bogman

    you are so right about “JFK and the Unspeakable”. One of the best books on Kennedy and the assassination. All the mouth-breathing rednecks who believe Oswald acted alone should be forced to read this one book.

    1. lbjkilledjfk January 14, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      It seems to me that to “Force” someone to read a book is a bit un-American. It smacks of the reeducation camps.

      1. “It seems to me that to “Force” someone to read a book is a bit un-American. It smacks of the reeducation camps.”~Bill Clarke on
        January 15, 2015 at 2:34 am

        Perhaps Mr Clarke is unfamiliar with metaphorical terms of speech? Like maybe he is ‘fit to be tied’?

        I read and hear such phraseology in America too often to keep up with. maybe it is ‘anti-EngSoc’?

  8. 16 years of American history lessons more or less, grew up in the 60s during the Apollo program, Irish Catholic family with more than general interest in Kennedy, and I never knew this story until I read “JFK and the Unspeakable” 50 years after Dallas.

    Proves JFK was NOT in the mold of Eisenhower or Johnson when it came to the Cold War. He was obviously working to end it.

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