International Space Station
Key decisions made by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan set the course for the American space program over more than a half-century—and their impact is felt even up to today.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy decided that being the leader in space was essential to the United States’ national interest, and chose to send Americans to land on the Moon as the most visible element of that quest for preeminence.
Even as Apollo 11 achieved the goal set by Kennedy, Richard Nixon decided that there was no need to set an ambitious post-Apollo objective. He mandated that the space agency should compete for priority and funding with other government programs, choosing the space shuttle as the centerpiece of NASA’s efforts.
Ronald Reagan, with his Kennedy-like rhetoric, treated the space program as an example of American exceptionalism and global leadership. He gave NASA the second half of its post-Apollo ambition, developing a space station as “the next logical step.” Though he was the first president to become enthusiastic about potential private-sector space activities, Reagan was a fiscal conservative who followed Nixon’s lead in limiting NASA’s share of the government budget to far less than what it had been during the Apollo project.
Join John M. Logsdon, founder of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs’ Space Policy Institute, for a discussion of how presidential leadership impacted America’s space program, featuring video clips of remarks by Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan reflecting their views on that exploration.
Logsdon is the author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon and After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the American Space Program.