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NASA Honors John F. Kennedy’s Space Legacy on His 100th Birthday

He was the American president, who focused an entire country on the moon, and that NASA will always remember.

President John F. Kennedy , born 100 years ago today (May 29), it was not the first president of the united states to oversee NASA, but it was he who in 1961 — in the midst of a space race with the Soviet Union — set the country firmly on a path to the moon for the next big step for manned space flight. To honor Kennedy’s vision and space heritage, and NASA is celebrating with a special JFK centennial website: http://www.nasa.gov/specials/jfk100/ . The website features images of the Kennedy’s greatest moments with the NASA astronauts, as well as fragments of” Ten Presidents and NASA by the space policy expert John Logsdon, that originally appeared in the” NASA-50th Anniversary of the Magazine .”

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy,” NASA officials wrote on the centennial page. “Although NASA was formed by Dwight Eisenhower, President Kennedy gave the baby agency the beginning the focus with his famous challenge to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade.” [ Photos: JFK’s NASA Legacy ]

The year 1961 was a transformative one for manned spaceflight. On 12 April of that year, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first person to fly in space . (Alan Shepard the first American in space would launch just a few weeks later, on 5 May.)

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On May 25, 1961, Kennedy issued his lunar challenge to a joint session of Congress, where he pleaded for more funds for space exploration and clear, the moon as a space flight goal at the end of the decade.

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade, of landing a man on the moon and get him safely back to Earth,” Kennedy told Congress . “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-term exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

You can read Kennedy’s full speech to the u.s. Congress .

Later that year, Kennedy re-slew the moon goal on Sept. 12, this time in front of a crowd of 40,000 at Rice University in Texas, where he gave one of his most famous and moving speeches .

“We go to the moon,” Kennedy said in his speech. “We go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept that we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others as well.”

Kennedy would not live to see NASA, and the whole country, achieve the moon goal of the president in 1961. The president was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963. Six years later, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, winning the space race and kick-off of what would eventually be six manned moon landings during the 17 mission Apollo program. [ Presidential Visions for NASA In the History ]

“What might have happened to Apollo and NASA in general, had Kennedy spent five years in the White House, can only be a matter of speculation,” Logsdon wrote in “Ten Presidents and NASA.” “We know the public is the association of the space program with Kennedy was so strong, that six days after Kennedy was assassinated, the new president, Lyndon Johnson, announced in a nationwide television address that the NASA center from which our moon travelers would start, would be named in Kennedy’s honor.”

NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida was the launch of the website for the agency of the enormous Saturn V rockets that launched the Apollo missions to the moon. The spaceport also served as the home for NASA’s space shuttle fleet.

According to Logsdon , on the day that Armstrong and Aldrin landed their Apollo 11 lander on the moon, an anonymous citizen placed flowers and a note on the Kennedy’s grave at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

The note read simply: “Mr. President, the Eagle has landed.”

E-mail Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him on @tariqjmalik and Google+ . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .

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