Remarks at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

October 19, 1983

Administrator Beggs, shuttle astronauts, NASA employees, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you. I just said here a moment ago that music should have been being played first for all of them.

I had a joke about a sneak preview of ``Bedtime for Bonzo,'' but I -- [laughter] -- I don't tell it. Mr. Beggs, I think you have a hit here.

Well, it does remind me of a story, and I have to have something to start with. It was about a -- it's a true story, I understand, about a newspaper photographer out in Los Angeles. He's called in by his editor and told of a fire that was raging out there in Palos Verdes. That's a hilly area south of Los Angeles, a lovely residential area. His assignment was to rush down to a small airport, board a waiting plane, get some pictures of the fire, and be back in time for the afternoon edition.

Well, he raced down the freeway. He broke the law all the way. He got to the airport and drove his car to the end of the runway. And sure enough, there was a plane waiting with the engines all there revved up, ready to go. He got aboard, and at about 5,000 feet, he began getting his camera out of the bag, told the fellow flying the plane to get him over the fire so he could get his pictures and get back to the paper. And from the other side of the cockpit there was a deafening silence. And then he heard these words: ``Aren't you the instructor?'' [Laughter] I don't know. There must sometime have been some moments like that in what we've just seen.

Well, today we celebrate a 25th birthday. If it were the birthday of an individual, we would be marking an important milestone. At 25 a person begins to enter the most productive part of life, a time for which everything else has been just preparation for great achievements ahead. And today this is also true for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA has accomplished so much. But on its 25th birthday, we celebrate our potential as well as our accomplishments.

Being here in the Air and Space Museum is a fitting environment for this commemoration. It offers us a perspective on how far we've come and should also help us catch a glimpse of the incredible possibilities that await us in the years ahead. For 25 years NASA has been the focal point for an activity that is fundamental to the American character: blazing the trail to an exciting new frontier.

Historically, we've always been a people willing to take risks and dream great dreams. We weren't the people who stayed on the shores of the Old World. Instead we were the Italians, the Frenchmen, the Dutchmen, the men and women of every race, nationality, and religion who came here to push back the limits and in the process become Americans one and all.

A little over 200 years ago we embarked on the greatest experiment in human history with the founding of the first modern democracy. All of what we've accomplished can be traced to the energy, creativity that is unleashed when the human spirit is free. Americans have proven that there's no mountain too high, forest too thick, desert so vast, or problem so perplexing that it can serve as a barrier to the progress of free men and women.

Our forefathers and mothers spread across this continent. When they reached the western shore they didn't stop. Early in this century we built the Panama Canal and expanded the frontier of American commerce. Today that same spirit, the American spirit, is alive and well. There's no better example of it than that which is found in NASA.

It was 25 years ago when a 31-pound, cylinder-shaped satellite was launched -- Explorer One, the first American satellite. And later that year, NASA was formed to oversee our space efforts: to ensure our leadership in aerospace science, to enhance cooperation with other nations in the peaceful application of space technology, to expand human knowledge of the atmosphere and space, and to pursue the practical benefits gained from these activities in order to improve the lot of mankind.

Men and women of NASA: Well done! Your accomplishments in these two and a half decades have already served your country and the people of this planet well. Today, we're reaping the returns that we've realized from our investment in space. And let me add, when the figures are put together we're not only getting our money's worth; our commitment to space has been one of the best investments we've ever made as a nation.

Communications satellites allow us cheaper and easier long-distance phone calls and live, worldwide television overseas -- and coverage worldwide. The value to our country created by this leap in communications is astronomical. Similarly, weather satellites are now a part of our daily routine. Countless lives are saved and property protected when weather emergencies are charted more accurately than ever before imagined. Navigation, search and rescue, and other such activities in the air and on the sea are aided by services that you've implanted in near space.

Through satellite remote-sensing, we can find the location of new resources and better manage those we're already using. At one time, the only thing people could think of as a spinoff of our space effort was Teflon pans. [Laughter] In an era of high tech, all of us are now aware of what the technological advances we've made mean to our way of life. Computers and electronics are now indispensable to American economic progress and well-being.

And how does one put a dollar value on world peace? Certainly space technology has contributed enormously here as well. Our eyes-in-the-sky make us all a little safer. In the vital area of arms control, it's opened new avenues to approach the issue of verification. These are all achievements to one degree or another that can be related to our commitment to exploring and utilizing space for the benefit of mankind.

Yet, there's something which I would like to add to the list, something that can never be taken for granted in a society as free and richly diverse as ours.

We have holidays when we celebrate our freedom, but most of the time, we're on our own as independent individuals. And that is, after all, what American liberty is all about. But there are moments that bind us together, moments of sadness and happiness that make us more than a conglomeration of people living in proximity to each other. The death of President John F. Kennedy was one such moment. The sight of an American POW stepping off a plane in the Philippines after years of captivity, saluting the flag, and hearing him proclaim, ``God bless America,'' was another. These experiences -- moments of unity -- build our national soul and character.

Perhaps NASA's greatest gifts have been the moments of greatness that you've allowed all of us to share. All of us -- whether we were schoolteachers, actors, government employees, farmers, factory hands, secretaries, or the cop on the beat -- all of us were along on those early Mercury missions. We were part of the NASA team launching probes into deep space to chart the unknown, to photograph the rings of Saturn and the surface of Mars. We were there, and our hearts were filled with such pride when Neil Armstrong, an American, the first person to set foot on the Moon, said, ``One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.'' And we saluted right along with him when he planted Old Glory in the lunar soil.

NASA's done so much to galvanize our spirit as a people, to reassure us of our greatness and of our potential. In recent days the space shuttle has, as another NASA project before it -- or other projects before it, captured our hearts and imaginations. Modern-day heroes like Sally Ride, Guy Bluford are emerging and inspiring new faith in our system and new hope for the future.

I was honored a year ago to be on hand to welcome the space shuttle Columbia when it returned from its mission and landed in the California desert on Independence Day. That was a day I and millions of other Americans will never forget.

I have to just tell you: One moment there in which with all the science and all the things that we can be told about and see, one simple sentence to me in answer to a question of mine seemed to bring all the wonder of it. How many times in the airplane you've known when you're on the approach path, and the airport is up there someplace ahead. And they hurried us up on the platform, because they said it was time to get up there, the shuttle was coming in. And they said it was on its approach. And I said, ``Just where is it?'' And they said, ``Just over Honolulu.'' [Laughter] The whole miracle was brought home to me right then.

The space shuttle, like your many other accomplishments, didn't just happen. It's the result of hard work and a vision of the future. The shortsighted were unable to understand. In fact, some individuals who would lead America today led the fight against the space shuttle system a decade ago. What you've proven with the success of this new transportation system is that there's never a time when we can stop moving forward, when we can stop dreaming.

Right now we're putting together a national space strategy that will establish our priorities, guide and inspire our efforts in space for the next 25 years and beyond. It'll embrace all three sectors of our space program -- civil, commercial, and national security. The strategy should flow from the national space policy that I announced July 4th last year.

We're not just concerned about the next logical step in space. We're planning an entire road, a ``high road'' if you will, that will provide us a vision of limitless hope and opportunity, that will spotlight the incredible potential waiting to be used for the betterment of humankind.

On this 25th anniversary, I would challenge you at NASA and the rest of America's space community: Let us aim for goals that will carry us well into the next century. Let us demonstrate to friends and adversaries alike that America's mission in space will be a quest for mankind's highest aspiration -- opportunity for individuals, cooperation among nations, and peace on Earth.

Your imagination and your ability to project into the future will open up new horizons and push back boundaries that limit our goals on this planet. The goals you set and your success in achieving them will have much to do with our children's prosperity and safety and will determine if America remains the great nation it's intended to be. Don't be afraid to remind the rest of us that once in a while being a leader in space is a very wonderful accomplishment. It has given us the wherewithal to share with others the fruits of our adventure. The American people know this and support it. And let's continue to ensure that this program belongs to the people. Our strategy must demonstrate to them that through challenging the unknown and having the courage to aim high, their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations will be fulfilled.

There are those who preach the doctrine of limited resources. They pessimistically suggest that we're on the way to depleting all of what we have and that slowly the condition of humankind will deteriorate into a Malthusian catastrophe.

This pessimism cuts across the grain of the American character. Our history has been not of accepting what is, but striving and working with our sweat and our minds to create something better. By inventing and putting to use machines, we've improved our productivity and created enormous new wealth. By discovering medicines, we live longer. By improving our agriculture -- with a big help from industry and science -- our nutrition is improving.

In my lifetime, aviation has gone from those barnstorming pilots who landed their biplanes in pastures and took passengers aloft for 10 minutes at $10, to a massive industry that contributes so much to our national prosperity and way of life. By the time a young person born in the same year as NASA reaches my age, our way of life may be as much tied to space as it is today tied to aviation.

Private companies are already beginning to look to space. In this regard, the space shuttle program could well be compared to the first transcontinental railroad. And when profit motive starts into play, hold onto your hats. The world is going to see what entrepreneurial genius is all about and what it means to see America get going.

The first 25 years of NASA opened a new era. Let us all rededicate ourselves today that NASA's next 25 years will ensure that this new chapter in history will be an American era.

I thank you for having me with you today. God bless you. And I understand that I'm to make the first slice in that cake. And if it'll just emphasize how far we've come -- I remember when I was in the military as a reserve officer and we cut the cake with a cavalry saber. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:16 p.m. on the main floor of the National Air and Space Museum. He was introduced by James M. Beggs, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Prior to his remarks, the President viewed the film ``Hail Columbia'' in the museum's Samuel Langley Theater. The film is an account of the first space shuttle mission.

On October 1 the President signed Proclamation 5111, proclaiming October 1 as the 25th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.