Remarks at the National Space Club Luncheon

March 29, 1985

Thank you. Chuck and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express my appreciation to the Board of Governors for honoring me with this magnificent trophy.

One of the fun things about my current job is being able to get personally involved in history-making endeavors like the American space program. Nancy and I have watched space shuttles take off and land, as you all have, and we've spoken with the astronauts. I've learned that space has some interesting characteristics. For example, sound doesn't travel in space. I'm not really going to believe that until I see Sam Donaldson [of ABC News] up there. [Laughter]

But seriously, though, I'm proud to have been selected as the recipient of this coveted award. I accept it with thanks and on behalf of those tens of thousands of individuals across our great country who, with their hard work, creativity, and faith in the future, have built the American space program and laid the foundation for a better tomorrow.

Robert Goddard, our American rocket pioneer for whom this award is named, exemplified the ingenuity, the perseverance of individuals who make lasting contributions to their fellow countrymen and to mankind. Dr. Goddard persevered for decades of intense research and development. And as so often happens, his genius was not apparent to many until after his success.

Arthur C. Clarke, distinguished author of science and fiction, says ideas often have three stages of reaction: First, ``It's crazy and don't waste my time.'' Second, ``It's possible, but it's not worth doing.'' And finally, ``I've always said it was a good idea.'' [Laughter]

In Dr. Goddard's case, the New York Times claiming rockets would never work in the vacuum of space ridiculed his effort. ``He only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools,'' the Times editorialized.

I seem to remember when they were saying the same thing about Reaganomics. [Laughter]

But due to the efforts of Dr. Goddard and other individuals of vision and tenacity, America is now on the edge of a new era. By standing on the shoulders of giants like Robert Goddard, this generation is moving forward to harness the enormity of space in the preservation of peace, in increasing our economic well-being, and in expanding the horizons of human freedom beyond the greatest dreams of our Founding Fathers.

American freedom was once protected by musket and ball. Today scientific advancements are changing the way we think about our security. Two years ago, I challenged our scientific community to use their talents and energies to find a way that we might eventually rid ourselves of the need for nuclear weapons -- starting with ICBM's. We seek to render obsolete the balance of terror -- or mutual assured destruction, as it's called -- and replace it with a system incapable of initiating armed conflict or causing mass destruction, yet effective in preventing war. Now, this is not and should never be misconstrued as just another method of protecting missile silos.

The Strategic Defense Initiative has been labeled ``Star Wars,'' but it isn't about war; it's about peace. It isn't about retaliation; it's about prevention. It isn't about fear; it's about hope. And in that struggle, if you'll pardon my stealing a film line: The force is with us.

Technology is with us as well. Twenty years ago, we simply could not build systems which would prevent ballistic missiles from reaching their targets; because of new advances in technology, that may no longer be true. That's why we've embarked on a vigorous research program, a program that does not violate treaties or threaten world stability.

The means to intercept ballistic missiles during their early-on boost phase of trajectory would enable us to fundamentally change our strategic assumptions, permitting us to shift our emphasis from offense to defense. What could be more moral than a system designed to save lives rather than to avenge them? What could be more peaceful than moving away from reliance on our ability to threaten global annihilation and toward reliance on systems which are incapable of threatening anyone?

We're not discussing a concept just to enhance deterrence, but rather a new kind of deterrence; not just an addition to our offensive forces, but research to determine the feasibility of a comprehensive nonnuclear defensive system -- a shield that could prevent nuclear weapons from reaching their targets.

And SDI research is not aimed only at protecting the United States. Our security is inextricably linked with other free peoples. An essential element of SDI research is the eventual ability to defend the United States and our allies from both long- and short-range ballistic missiles. Thus, we will not be consulting with our allies on SDI research, but working actively with them. In fact, we have extended formal invitations to those allied nations which want to join us in making SDI a fully cooperative research effort. The Secretary of Defense will be coordinating these bilateral programs of cooperation with our allies.

Our activities in space are already helping keep the peace, providing us early warning and enabling us to verify arms agreements. And far from being a violation of existing arms agreements, once our adversaries fully understand the goal of our research program, it will add new incentives to both sides in Geneva to actually reduce the number of nuclear weapons threatening mankind. By making missiles less effective, we make these weapons more negotiable. If we're successful, the arms spiral will be a downward spiral, hopefully, to the elimination of them.

We must, as SDI research would permit, expand the opportunities, the options, for peace and arms reduction. At the same time, through our strategic modernization program, we must ensure that our current weapons remain capable of performing their essential task, until we reach that day that they may be replaced by a defensive system.

Let history record that in our day America's best scientific minds sought to develop technology that helped mankind ease away from the nuclear parapet. Let us move on to a happier chapter in the history of man. And I would think any scientist would be proud to help turn that page.

We have used and will continue to use space to make ours a safer world. Space is also making this a more prosperous world; and in this endeavor, we've only scratched the surface. Space technology has already revolutionized communications and is assisting everyone from farmers to navigators. Industries that seem far removed from any direct tie with the space program have benefited beyond expectation.

Recently, the Presidential Commission on Industrial Competitiveness -- composed of leaders from business, labor, government, and academia -- reported that America's leadership in science and technology is the key to future U.S. competitiveness. Space can give America the edge. And this is true not only for high-tech industries like computers and biotechnology but for mature ones as well. Innovation -- often spurred on, if not inspired, by the space program -- is vital to the modernization of our steel, automobile, and textile industries.

The grandeur of the space shuttle taking off and then landing after a successful mission has been a source of inspiration to America. We can't put a price tag on this. And we cannot take our achievements in space for granted.

Just 15 years ago, the first two Americans landed on the Moon and captured the imagination of the world. In 1969 the space program had momentum, and we seemed on the verge of moving permanently into space. Instead, in the 1970's America hesitated.

Luckily, however, we did invest in the shuttle program, and today we have an operating fleet of three -- soon to be four -- space shuttles. And I have asked NASA and the Department of Defense to study the next generation of space transportation systems for use in the 1990's.

As you are aware, last year we took the next step toward future achievements in space: a permanently manned space station. The space station will serve as an orbiting laboratory for scientific and industrial research. It will give us vital new capabilities to work and learn in space and provide us a gateway to future space goals.

Our friends and allies have been invited to join us as partners in the space station effort. The response has been very exciting. We can fully expect that in less than a decade, space will shine as an outstanding area of cooperation between the free peoples of this planet.

But we expect more than inspiration from our commitment to space. Space should and will become an increasing sphere of investment and commercial activity, a center of attention for entrepreneurs and businessmen. Already, many companies see great potential in using space as a new environment for industrial research and product development. As free enterprise expands into space, not only will innovative ways be discovered to produce the goods and services we now enjoy but new opportunities, inconceivable in the confines of Earth, will come to light. Before the end of the century, many billions of dollars of commercial activity will be taking place in and because of space.

Individual freedom and the profit motive were the engines of progress which transformed an American wilderness into an economic dynamo that provided the American people with a standard of living that is still the envy of the world. We must make certain the same incentives that worked so well in developing America's first frontier are brought to play in taming the frontier of space. Let us always remember that our space program, first and foremost, belongs to and should address the needs of the American people. Last year, I approved a national space strategy which identifies areas of high priority necessary to accomplish this.

Personally, I like space. The higher you go, the smaller the Federal Government looks. [Laughter] Seriously, though, to maximize our benefits, we must look beyond short-term steps to develop long-term goals for our national civilian space enterprise. I am, accordingly, happy to introduce today our appointees to the National Commission on Space, which will devise an aggressive civilian space agenda to carry America into the 21st century. The Commission, with the participation of the brightest minds in and out of the space community, will bring into focus a vision of America's future civilian opportunities and develop a set of civilian space goals to ensure America is ready for tomorrow. The members will talk with a broad sampling of Americans to keep our space efforts on target with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the people.

And it gives me great pleasure to announce to you that the Chairman of the National Commission on Space will be Dr. Thomas Paine, who has a long history of leadership within the space program. Would you stand up, Dr. Paine?

Now -- remain right there -- we have other members of the Commission with us today, and would they please stand up. [Applause]

I want to thank all of you for taking on this task. We have faith in your dedication, in your judgment, and your imagination. And thank you for being willing to give of yourselves this way. And you deserved that round of applause.

But while we're recognizing the people -- four people -- I'd just like to thank many of you in this room who are helping out with a private sector initiative dear to my heart, the Young Astronauts Program. Our space efforts are, by nature, future oriented. And I can't think of a better idea than giving young people a chance to get involved.

One fascinating aspect of space travel is, as Einstein pointed out: The faster you travel, the less you age. [Laughter] And now you know my real motive for supporting space exploration.

The challenge of pushing back frontiers is part of our national character. And as we face the vast expanses of space, let us recapture those stirrings in our soul that make us Americans. Space, like freedom, is a limitless, never-ending frontier on which our citizens can prove that they are indeed Americans.

Dr. Goddard once wrote a letter to H.G. Wells in which he explained: ``There can be no thoughts of finishing, for aiming at the stars, both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.''

Well, let us hope that Americans never lose that thrill. And thank you for letting me be with you today. And thank you for the honor you've done me. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Shoreham Hotel. Prior to his remarks, the President was presented with the Goddard Memorial Trophy by Chuck J. Tringali and William P. Morns, president and first vice president, respectively, of the National Space Club.