Douglas Brinkley, Historian and Author of American Moonshot

Published on22 MAY 2019

Historian Douglas Brinkley discusses President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to “go to the moon” that inspired a generation and how the Apollo 11 mission changed the world and our perceptions of the possibilities of human discovery. 

On how the Cold War fueled the space race: “If the moon’s the target and we're on about the same playing field, we in the United States can prove that democratic capitalism is superior to communist totalitarianism. And so it’s like a game royale – game on. And [President] Kennedy start[ed] mobilizing the country for the feat.”

On the “moonshot” 50 years later: “That term ‘moonshot’ started sticking in popular culture. NASA adopts it calling the manned space center the moonshot control center. But today the term moonshot means different things to different people…. I know we have a lot of broken politics right now, but many Americans still believe that if we pull together, we could do something great and not a war -- something unusual and great, something that proves American exceptionalism. And the question now is what is that and how do we organize our politics that we all do it, meaning Fortune 500 companies, universities, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all the service branches -- how do you pull together and do something magnificent here in the 21st century?”

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