Why We Went to the Moon

On the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, TIME's correspondent at the Kennedy White House tells how the quest began

There was history and poetry and raw power waiting out in the stars -- to be assembled and shaped and used for the glory of the U.S. It was everything John Kennedy loved. It was why he was in the Oval Office.

And on the soft, clear evening of April 14, 1961 -- two days after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin went into his triumphal orbit and three days before the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion -- Kennedy tilted back on the hind legs of a leather chair in the Cabinet Room and, I believe, decided to send Americans to the moon....

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