The Space-Age Presidency Of John F. Kennedy.

By John Bisney 

Presentation of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Astronaut Major L. Gordon Cooper on May 21, 1963. Photo taken by White House Photographer Robert Knudsen.


By John Bisney

For millions of older Americans, late November can often trigger a tragic memory from 1963. Almost everyone who is of retirement age can still recall how they first heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas on November 22.

Asked about his legacy 56 years later, today these same Americans may mention the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs invasion, but most will also cite his bold goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Excerpts from his two “moon speeches” have become iconic visual moments in American history.            

Kennedy also put his imprint on other aspects of the US space program during his three-and-a-half years in office, and his tenure saw many historic US firsts; among them, the first Americans in space and in orbit, the first communications and weather satellites, nuclear rocket propulsion development, and the first fly-by of another planet. With the passage of time, however, many have been forgotten. 

Cooper, Grissom, and Kennedy.

The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy is dedicated to recalling these other aspects of his administration.  It’s the first book, surprisingly, to visually document Kennedy’s interactions with the American space program: no-one has ever before compiled a chronological account of all of his activities from 1961-1963. Authors John Bisney and JL Pickering do so for the first time, drawing from rarely-seen or unpublished images from the Kennedy Library, NASA, Los Alamos Labs, and other sources to present a new look at Kennedy’s travels, briefings and speeches involving the Space Age and the Space Race with the Soviets. It’s a lasting legacy that should not and cannot be forgotten.

Kennedy and officials from McDonnell Douglas inspect a Gemini mock-up with engineer Elbert Wiegand in the cockpit.


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Kennedy book features Los Alamos’ role in the Space Race

In their new book, “The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy,” author John Bisney and space historian J.L. Pickering have put together a 224-page, hardcover book featuring 528 rare color photos of President John F. Kennedy.

And not just rare photos, but photos that capture Kennedy engaged in the one of the most crucial missions of his presidency, getting an American on the moon.

Los Alamos residents especially will get a kick and perhaps a wave of nostalgia reading the book, as it features an extensive number of photographs from his December 1962 visit to Los Alamos. Kennedy visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory that December to check on “Project Rover,” where the laboratory was working a small nuclear reactor designed for rocket flight.

The book’s foreword is written by Christopher Kraft, the flight director for all of six manned Mercury missions at the Manned Spacecraft Center. He would later go on to serve as the center’s director of operations and then later as the center’s director.

Kraft recounts what happened sometime in 1961 when National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials let it be known to Kennedy that they had been thinking of sending a manned flight around the moon.

“Why just fly around the moon?” Why not land?,” the president told them.

“The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy” chronicles everything that happened after that sentence in beautiful black and white and color photography.

Bisney is a former correspondent who covered the U.S. space program for 30 years for CNN, the Discovery Channel, SiriusXM Radio and other news outlets. Pickering s a space-flight historian who specializes in rare images and historic artifacts from the U.S. space program.

Before “The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy” Bisney and Pickering collaborated on two other books about America’s space program, “Spaceshots and Snapshots of Projects Mercury and Gemini: A Rare Photographic History” and Moonshots and “Snapshots of Project Apollo: A Rare Photographic History.”

In their book about Kennedy, Bisney said the photos already uncovered for the prior two books led them on to see what other photos were out there.

“That led us to wonder what else might be available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,” Bisney said in their latest book’s introduction. “Once we realized we had plenty of unpublished or rarely seen material to work with, our goal became to follow the template of our previous two space history books, completed with detailed captions.”

Though Kennedy would never live to see America’s goal of putting a man on the moon, “The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy” captures perfectly the Kennedy’s engagement with the Mercury program all the way to him personally seeing the first two-stage Saturn I booster being readied for its first, record-setting flight.

Though the laboratory’s reactor concept was not used in the space program, the book features extensive photo coverage of Kennedy’s December 1962 visit to Los Alamos. The book shows rare photos of his speech at Sullivan Field and touring the Los Alamos National Laboratory with then director Norris Bradbury. Many of the photographs feature Los Alamos buildings and landmarks that are still recognizable, such as the Los Alamos Post Office. The pictures are so sharp and clear; residents who were around at that time might recognize themselves along the motorcade route down Central Avenue or in the crowd at Sullivan Field.

“The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy” and the authors’ other titles are available through the University of New Mexico Press, and can be ordered on line at

LA Monitor

The Space-Age Presidency of John F Kennedy: A Rare Photographic History

Co-Authors John Bisney and JL Pickering. Forward by Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr.

Our book is the first to visually document JFK’s interactions with the American space program. We have pulled together more than 520 images, many unpublished, from NASA, the USAF, Los Alamos, White Sands, the Kennedy Library, and other sources to chronicle his activities and travels from 1961-63. Each photo, as usual with our books, is accompanied by a detailed caption providing historical depth. We also include related memos, models and historical artifacts from the Kennedy Library and Museum collection. Project Mercury and X-15/X-20 fans will enjoy this book, but it also encompasses the new age of satellites, space probes, and nuclear missiles. We take you behind the scenes at the White House and on field trips to military and space facilities around the country as Kennedy explores his nation’s growing capabilities.

The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy gives readers an in-depth look at President Kennedy’s involvement in the beginning stages of the gargantuan effort to reach the Moon–before the Russians. The combination of rare photographs and insight Bisney and Pickering lend to the story gives a unique context to the politics and events of the era.”–Roland Miller, author of Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History

Presidents Day Our 35th President John F. Kennedy.

Today we mark the birthday of our first president, George Washington, which was actually February 22. The holiday, however, has become widely-known as Presidents’ Day to honor all who have held the office, and so is also an opportunity to remember our 35th president, John F. Kennedy.

In the 1960s, February 22 was a federal holiday, no matter what day of the week it fell (Lincoln’s February 12 birthday, incidentally, was never a federal holiday). On all three times it rolled around during his administration, President Kennedy found time to relax. In 1961, after a series of morning briefings at the White House, he played nine holes of golf in the afternoon, followed by a few more meetings and then dinner at a friend’s home. In 1963, he was at the Kennedy family compound in Palm Beach, Fla. He went to the beach in the morning and cruised on the yacht Honey Fitz in the afternoon.

On February 22, 1962, he was also in Palm Beach. He had flown down from Washington earlier in the day, accompanied by the family of astronaut John Glenn. They would all attend a medal ceremony in Glenn’s honor the next day at Cape Canaveral after becoming the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20.

It was Kennedy’s first visit to the Cape, and he received a brief tour of launch facilities before pinning NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal on Glenn’s lapel. The president would come to the space center on two more occasions during his time in office. We cover all three visits with multi-page photo spreads in our new book, The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy, along with detailed captions providing the rich historical background for each image.   By John Bisney for Retrospaceimages Blog.  

This book is now available.  Follow the affiliate link below to view on Amazon. 


The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy




JFK Feb 22 President John F. Kennedy (at bottom of airplane stairs) and members of John Glenn’s family exit Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 22, 1962. Walking down the stairs behind Kennedy are Glenn’s wife, Annie; his daughter, Lyn; and his son David.