He was the American president who aimed an entire country at the moon, and for that NASA will always remember.

President John F. Kennedy, born 100 years ago today (May 29), wasn’t the first U.S. president to oversee NASA, but it was he who in 1961 — amid a space race with the Soviet Union — set the country firmly on a path to the moon for the next giant leap for human spaceflight. To honor Kennedy’s vision and space legacy, NASA is celebrating with a special JFK centennial website: http://www.nasa.gov/specials/jfk100/. The website features images of Kennedy’s biggest moments with NASA and astronauts, as well as excerpts from “Ten Presidents and NASA” by space policy expert John Logsdon, which originally appeared in the “NASA 50th Anniversary Magazine.”

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy,” NASA officials wrote on the centennial page. “Though NASA was formed by Dwight Eisenhower, President Kennedy gave the infant agency its early focus with his famous challenge to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade.”

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

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy issued his moon challenge to a joint session of Congress, where he called for increased funding for space exploration and clearly set the moon as a human spaceflight goal by the end of the decade.

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

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SOURCE: Space.com, Tariq Malik