Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

The Vision Thing

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 24, 2008

One thing that any management consultant will tell you is that you need to have a vision in order to achieve anything.  It’s common sense, isn’t it?   As my grandmother never said ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do’.

Here’s the second part of that Kennedy speech to which I linked in the “We have ignitition sequence start…” post.  It includes, famously, just about the most inspiring ‘vision’ you could ever want to have.

As with the first part, it’s well worth watching the whole clip.  For all his flaws, JFK had in buckets two things that most modern politicians lack: charisma and the ability to relate to ordinary people.  5 minutes and 43 seconds into the clip he goes into overdrive, setting out the vision (he actually mentions the word).  He seems to go off the script at one point, and almost as an aside says “I don’t think we should waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job”.  He also cracks a couple of jokes which certainly seem spontaneous.  He would certainly have inspired, I think, many of the students listening to him to join 100,000 or so strong team needed to achieve Apollo. (It’s also worth noting that, while some of those behind him seem to be in the final stages of terminal heat exhaustion, Kennedy who, as he points out is “doing all the work”, doesn’t appear to have a bead of sweat on him.)

The Apollo mission was largely driven by political considerations, of course.  If Apollo was the ‘how’ an important ‘what’ had to do with recovering the USA’s lead in the space race and re-establishing its position as superpower top-dog.  But Kennedy quotes Mallory’s “because it is there” motive as well and, whatever the underlying reasons, Apollo was an astonishing scientific and engineering achievement.

This clip includes Kennedy setting out the vision, in rather more dispassionate tones, to Congress in May 1961 some 16 months before the Rice University speech.

And this wikipedia article includes this well known quote from the Rice speech which outlines some more ‘whats’ for the programme:

“We choose to 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, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Today’s manned spaceflight programme has much less focussed goals and is certainly in trouble.  I was prompted to write this post after reading this item, from the New Scientist.

The International Space Station is a phenomenal engineering achievement and from time-to-time I will wander outside on a clear night to watch it shoot over Newbury, sometimes with an approaching Shuttle chasing it, and think about what’s been achieved and what’s actually going on up there.  (You can check when it’s next passing over your neigbourhood at 18,000mph here and, with more precision, here.)

But I also know that the ISS, even though the programme has been hobbled by large budget cuts, is phenomenally expensive. It’s also, to my mind, pretty pointless.  And it’s certainly a long way removed from this, which I well remember watching, spellbound, in the Regal Cinema, Henley-on-Thames, on its first release in 1968: a year before Apollo 11.  Apart from the first part, obviously, this was supposed to be taking place 7 years ago.


2 Responses to “The Vision Thing”

  1. […] to mention in another post, this could be problematic.  But imagine if Gordon Brown had made the speech shown here?  If our PM had been President during the Apollo programme he would, every morning at 6.00am, have […]

  2. […] (I was five when Gagarin whistled (literally!) around the Earth and I’ve blogged before about living through Apollo as a teenager. […]

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