Fifty years later, that iconic speech -- in which Kennedy called for America to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade -- is being commemorated by the U.S. space agency NASA and by the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), which currently includes Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and Ukrainian Yuri Malenchenko.
Said Kennedy, in the most famous words from that Rice address:
That daunting challenge came only seven months after John Glenn, aboard Friendship 7, became the first American to orbit the Earth, which in itself was almost a year behind the Soviet Union's earth-shaking achievement of putting the world's first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space.
A man on the moon in seven years, even though no space walks had yet occurred, no dockings in space had yet been practiced, no lunar modules had yet been built.
WATCH: Kennedy's "moon" speech at Rice University
Kennedy acknowledged the work ahead:
"…If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold."
The speech, delivered to a space-crazy America, was generally well-received, especially in Texas, according to Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history of Rice University, writing on the "Houston Chronicle's" website:
Without mentioning the Soviet Union by name, Kennedy -- spooked by that nation's stunning space advances -- made it plain that it was his intention to beat the Kremlin at its own game, to be first militarily and technologically.
As correspondent Mike Wall notes on Space.com, Kennedy stressed that humanity's charge into space is inexorable, and that the world would be better off with the United States leading the way:
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled Kennedy's vision by landing on the moon and, four days later, returning safely to Earth.
As the late Neil Armstrong -- the first human to set foot on the moon -- recently noted in a rare interview with CPA Australia, the moon walk itself was gravy:
To mark the anniversary, NASA TV plans to broadcast a high-quality version of Kennedy's speech at the same time he originally delivered it -- at 1515 GMT today. American Astronaut Suni Williams, who is onboard the orbiting ISS, will also speak about the significance of Kennedy's words.
-- Grant Podelco