The Kennedy Moon Legacy in Concert

The Kennedy Moon Legacy in Concert

To celebrate President John F. Kennedy’s so-called “moon speech” delivered to Congress 50 years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) put together a concert, appropriately held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on May 25. Performances by the Space Philharmonic orchestra complemented a series of images and videos from NASA’s 50 years of human spaceflight missions that were set in motion by President Kennedy’s challenge.

With appearances by Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of President Kennedy, along with actresses Nichelle Nichols and June Lockhart (from the original Star Trek and Lost in Space television series respectively) and musician Herbie Hancock, the night was full of surprises. NASA images were paired with Beethoven, the Star Trek theme and even “Somewhere” from West Side Story.

Yet the event was not just a big party. A very special presentation by the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band accompanied stills and videos from the tragic Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia missions and the astronauts lost in these accidents. Astronauts Scott Altman and Leland Melvin, who introduced this segment, spoke soberly about the risk that is still involved in any human spaceflight mission. Even as we look toward the Space Shuttle’s last flight in the coming months, Altman reiterated that “the Shuttle remains an experimental vehicle,” one that will provide lessons for the next-generation vehicles to follow.

What those vehicles will look like and where they will take the next group of astronauts remain issues of contention. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who likened President Barack Obama to President Kennedy as another “young president” who identified and seeks to address a national need, said that “we stand at a Moon shot moment once again.”

This sense of hope about the future of the human spaceflight program — contrasting with the persisting uncertainty over what will come next for NASA – was not only reflected in the NASA leadership. Nichelle Nichols, who took part in recruiting the first women and minority astronauts that would reprise her television role in real life, said that “space is part of all of our lives.” She spoke with enthusiasm of what the Shuttle program meant for diversity, through which “women and people of color took to space for real.” She and others clearly have high hopes for much more to come — in a spontaneous response to a crying baby, Nichols turned toward the sound and said: “You’ll fly. You’ll fly next time!”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.