Remarks to Participants in the Young Astronauts Program

June 11, 1986

Thank you, Jack. Secretary [of Education] Bennett, Jim Fletcher, the Director of NASA, and thank all of you. It's wonderful to be here with you. And after seeing your exhibits out there and all of you here and what you are interested in, I have to think that I wasted a lot of my younger days shootin' marbles. [Laughter]

You know, the Air and Space Museum is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and I have a hunch that you feel the same way. Here are the aircraft, the jets, and the spaceships that broke the records, that went farther and higher and stayed up longer than any before. And these rooms are a living history of almost a century of progress and scientific achievement.

But you know, each one of these air and space ships needed a pilot to fly it to fame and glory. And without the spirit of adventure that animated these heroes of aviation, these flying machines would never have gotten off the ground. Men would have remained forever a slave to gravity, a prisoner of two dimensions on the Earth's surface.

And just above you is the plane that made the first powered flight: the Wright brothers' Flyer. That wasn't many years before I was born. The Wright brothers' first flight lasted only 12 seconds and covered only 120 feet -- and that is less than the wingspan of a 747 -- but that short flight transformed the world. Right above you, too, is the Spirit of St. Louis. That's the plane in which Charles Lindbergh made his lonely flight across the cold waters of the North Atlantic. I remember well the headlines and celebration when Lucky Lindy, as we called him, touched down safely in Europe. And there in back of us to my right you can see the Orange Bell X - 1 in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and proved he had ``the right stuff.'' And then here, too, are the capsules that first carried man into Earth orbit. And over there to my right you can reach out and literally touch another world: a piece of rock brought back from the Moon by our Apollo astronauts.

These magnificent men and their flying machines have enlarged our world. They gave mankind wings so that he could soar like his spirit, and they have immeasurably enriched all our lives. But this epic advance into the future has also been a tale of brave sacrifice. Chuck Yeager would be the first to tell you his conquest of the sound barrier was made possible by many fearless test pilots before him, not a few of whom sacrificed their lives in the hazardous line of duty. It was only after we lost three of our honored Apollo astronauts in a fire on the launchpad that we landed on the Moon. And we all remember too well that tragic day last January when we lost the brave crew of the Challenger. How our nation mourned. And yet even in our grief, we immediately set about our duty, finding the cause of the accident, doing everything humanly possible to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.

The investigation was expeditious and thorough. We learned again that we're far from perfect, that we're frail and fallible. We make mistakes, but we will not hide from our errors. Though saddened and chastened, our nation and our space program will be stronger because we have looked our faults straight in the face and we have done what must be done to correct them.

So, yes, we're going ahead with a space program worthy of the memory of the Challenger Seven. Their commitment to excellence will guide us on to new and even greater achievements and conquests. For our journey into space we have a copilot now: the memory, the spirit of the Challenger Seven. We will make our space program safe, reliable, and proud -- just as the Challenger Seven would have wanted. Our commitment to space hasn't and won't slacken one bit. In fact, it's strengthened. Because with their memory in mind, we're not only going to do everything we planned to do before, we're going to do it better.

You know, after the shuttle disaster, many supportive calls and letters flowed into the Young Astronaut Council from young people like yourselves -- maybe some of you. One Eskimo child from Mount Village, Alaska, said, ``If our ancestors had been afraid to cross over the ice, we wouldn't be here today.'' ``We should honor the brave astronauts who seek their dream,'' wrote another -- ``I want to join the Young Astronaut Program and find my dream.'' And an 11-year-old boy from Daly City, California, wrote, ``If we stop going into space, people everywhere will die a little in their hearts.'' Well, I want to make a pledge to you Young Astronauts today: I promise you now, we're not stopping. The wealth of technological know-how and ability at NASA are some of America's most important national resources, and the heart and dedication of NASA's staff are one of America's great inspirations. We will make necessary changes and improvements, and NASA will continue to be in the vanguard as America fulfills its destiny in space.

Let me tell you about the future. Not only will we maintain our commitments to our national security and civil government satellite launchings, but we're also actively encouraging the private sector to begin its own space ventures. We're going to let the American spirit of enterprise loose in the limitless frontiers of space. And we're going to build a manned space station for the 1990's. That model, I think, is above me here and to the left. Some of you Young Astronauts could be its first inhabitants. And some of you may even pilot the spaceplane that we're building so that we can commute up and down to our new homes in the sky. The spaceplane will be a hypersonic marvel that can take off from a standing runway, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, and break into Earth orbit. We should have the first test model ready about 1993. And if any of you are its pilot, I'd like to have you take me along for a ride. [Laughter] Nancy says I'm good company, and -- [laughter] -- sometimes I can make people laugh when I tell stories.

This may sound like dreaming; well, it is -- the sort of dream that comes true. You know, I've lived through a sizable chunk of this 20th century, and I've seen some mighty big changes in my lifetime. Believe it or not, I can remember the first time I ever heard a sound brought from radio. I was about the age of some of the older ones here -- in high school -- and there was a young man -- a little older -- in our town. He was quite a scientist in his own development of himself. He was an experimenter, like so many of you, and he built himself a little crystal radio set. There was no such thing then as a manufactured, or factory-built, radio set. You couldn't go into a store and buy one. There were people like this young man who'd experimented and had created these sets. You didn't have a loudspeaker; you had to put on earphones to hear if they could find anything. And there was the earliest radio station in America -- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And so, we walked all over town with him on a Sunday afternoon -- several of us. And he had an aerial he kept holding up trying to find, out of the air, some sound. And down by the river in Dixon, Illinois, suddenly he turned the earphone around so we could hear, and we were hearing orchestra music. And it was coming from KDKA in Pittsburgh -- as I say, one of the first -- the first radio station.

Now, to show you how fast things advance -- 9 years later I got my first job, after graduating from college, as a radio sports broadcaster. Radio had become an institution; everybody in the land could listen to radio. There were hundreds of radio stations. And it was a great industry, a national institution, with programs and radio stars known nationwide because of its enormous impact -- and all in those 9 years.

Since then, the pace of technological progress has become ever more rapid, and the changes that I've seen in my lifetime will be dwarfed by the changes you see in yours. I envy you that. But the experiments I saw on my way in convince me that many of these changes will be made by the young men and women -- the Young Astronauts -- right here in this room. As you know, 1992 is designated International Space Year. We chose that year because it's the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. Each one of you young astronauts, scientists, and experimenters is a future Columbus, an explorer of the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Remember this: When we come to the edge of our known world, we're standing on the shores of the infinite. Dip your hand in that limitless sea; you're touching the mystery of God's universe. Set sail across its waters, and you embark on the boldest, most noble adventure of all. Out beyond our present horizons lie whole new continents of possibility, new worlds of hope waiting to be discovered. We've traveled far, but we've only begun our journey. There are hungry to feed, sicknesses to cure, and new worlds to explore. And this is no time for small plans or shrinking ambitions. We stand on the threshold of an epic age, an age of technological splendor and an explosion of human potential, an age for heroes. And I think I'm seeing many of them right here in this room.

The dreams of your parents will become your realities. The future we can only conjecture, you will be able to reach out and touch -- just like that piece of moonstone. You Young Astronauts will be our pilots into the future, and it is our hearts you will carry with you on your voyage to the stars.

Thank you. God bless you all. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:38 a.m. in the Milestone Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum. Jack Anderson, chairman of the Young Astronaut Council, introduced the President. Prior to his remarks, he toured a display of the children's science projects.