In 1961, President Kennedy announced to a joint session of Congress—and the world—that the United States was going to go to the moon:
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. 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. … But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon—if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there. The challenge was set, and just eight years later—before the decade was out—we became the first nation to land on the moon.
Fifty years after that famous "moon shot" speech, Vice President Biden asked an audience at the John F. Kennedy Museum and Library in Boston to imagine America's potential as a 21st-century innovator. He asked us to imagine an economy that produces solar power as cheap and accessible as fossil fuels and develops effective anti-cancer therapies and medicines that regrow organs:
Of one thing I am convinced: If President Kennedy were standing here today…he would challenge us to push the boundaries of our own knowledge and our present capacity, to bridge the gap between the possible and the unimaginable. For it would have been beyond his comprehension that the United States would fail to invest in visionary new ideas—ideas needed to make the 21st century livable.
Vice President Biden was 18 years old during the 1961 speech—but it stuck with him as a moment that defined who we are as Americans and our nation's potential for greatness:
I remember President Kennedy saying it was up to us—up to the nation—to decide whether to commit ourselves to the challenge of sending a man to the moon and bringing him safely back to Earth. That if we weren't going to go for it full tilt, we might as well not go for it at all.
In 1961, President Kennedy's character and makeup was a reflection not only of his generation, but of America's character. Well, I am confident my generation and yours is not only up to the task—but in an even better position to meet the daunting challenges of this young century.
Today, our challenges include building a new energy policy that will save our planet from a changing climate, increase our energy independence, and restore our economy. We must advance our science and health care to increase the quality of life for all Americans. And President Obama and Vice President Obama share the vision that President Kennedy held 50 years ago—that at at time of incredible possibility, we can only win the future through investment in research, development, infrastructure, and education:
No nation that expects to be the leader of others can afford to be a follower on confronting the critical challenges of today. But just as there were naysayers in 1961, there are naysayers in 2011. They say our economy is too fragile for us to be so bold. I say, our economy will stay fragile, unless we are bold. They say we cannot afford to invest in these endeavors. I say, we cannot fail to invest.