Tom Still: Fifty years after his death, JFK’s science and technology legacy endures

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

The wave of remembrances tied to the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination have necessarily stressed his role in pushing the frontiers of space exploration, but his contributions to innovation in other realms of science and technology reach well beyond.

From human health to telecommunications to environmental studies, Kennedy left his stamp on a nation that was on the verge of economic transition – from a manufacturing and agricultural model to a society grappling with the challenges of a new information age.

“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 earth,” said Kennedy in a May 25, 1961, address to a joint session of Congress.

It was an audacious goal, influenced more by the urgency of the Cold War than pure scientific inquiry. (Later that same year, JFK advised American families to build bomb shelters and Ok’d resumed atmospheric testing of atomic weapons.) His “man on the moon” speech was nonetheless galvanizing for a generation of scientists and engineers who were thrown into a mega-project that required more innovation than most people thought was possible.

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