“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. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. 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.” –John F. Kennedy, in his speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961
When President Kennedy gave this speech to Congress, he was challenging an entire nation to aim for the moon, literally. Many of us have seen or heard the first sentence in the quote above, but it’s the rest of the quote that has my attention today.
In 1961, the technology to get to the moon didn’t exist. Kennedy acknowledges this fact by mentioning just some of the new technologies that will need to be developed (alternative liquid and solid fuel boosters much larger than any now being developed, appropriate lunar space craft). He also makes it clear that not one man will be going to the moon, but an entire nation.
To meet the ambitious goal of getting safely to the moon and back before 1970, NASA engineers and planners compiled detailed lists and timetables for inventing new technology, new methods, and new systems to make the moonshot possible. They didn’t know exactly how the inventions would come about, but they had the audacity and foresight to plan for them, and to put them on a schedule. Thousands of people visualized a new future and went about making it a reality.
As they say, the rest is history. On June 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, and he and his two Apollo 11 crewmates returned safely to Earth four days later.
Moonshots are big. They aren’t incremental goals like losing 20 pounds by next Christmas, completing the next project your boss thinks is important, or aiming for your business to perform a little better than last year.
Moonshots are impossible to fathom without imagination, a willingness to challenge the status quo, and a keen awareness that fear is there only to sharpen your senses. Moonshots create new definitions of what’s possible. They can turn a good company into a great one.
Here’s one more thing to remember about moonshots. If you aim for the moon and don’t quite get there, guess where you are. You’re in a pretty high orbit, and a long way from where you started.
Find your moonshot and enjoy the ride.