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Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Astronaut Shannon Lucid and an Exchange With Reporters

December 02, 1996

The President. Good morning. It's a pleasure to have all these dignitaries here today. I want to especially acknowledge Senators Glenn and Burns; the NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin; Dr. Jack Gibbons; the Russian Ambassador, Mr. Vorontsov, who is here on behalf of the two cosmonauts that Dr. Lucid roomed with in space. She just told me she made them Jell-O every Sunday morning. [Laughter] I want to welcome Michael Lucid and the shuttle crew that brought her home: Commander Bill Readdy, Pilot Terry Wilcutt, Mission Specialists Tom Akers, Jay Apt, and Carl Walz.

I can think of no better way to begin this season of hope than by presenting the Congressional Space Medal to Dr. Shannon Lucid. The United States has always been sparing in its honors because the medals and official recognition we bestow are more than simple congratulations. They are public declarations of outstanding achievement and extraordinary service to the Nation. Dr. Lucid achieved that kind of service for 188 days this year, the longest flight by an American in space, the longest mission for any woman of any nation in space, five shuttle missions altogether.

Her accomplishments should come as no surprise. She has always been a determined visionary. I think many of us have now heard the story of how, as an eighth grader, she wrote a school paper about wanting to be a rocket scientist, and she was told by the teacher that there was no such job and, even if there were, a girl couldn't get it. Fortunately, she didn't listen to everything her teacher said.

In 1978 she was chosen as one of NASA's first six women astronauts. As a biochemist, she's done important work on the effects of weightlessness on the human body, including her own. She surprised just about everyone when, after 6 months in space, she stood up to gravity and walked right off the space shuttle.

Most pioneers set their sights on just one frontier. Shannon Lucid has pushed to the furthermost reaches of two, the frontiers of both space and science. She has done so with brainpower, willpower, courage, skill, and good humor.

This medal commemorates her service, but it also stands for something greater: Her mission did much to cement the alliance of space we have formed with Russia. It demonstrated that as we move into a truly global society, space exploration can serve to deepen our understanding not only of our planet and our universe but of those who share the Earth with us. That's why we're committed to keeping a strong space program, to keep the shuttle flying, to work toward the international space station, to develop the X-33 which will replace the shuttle, to continue robotic exploration of Mars and the solar system. In fact, countdown begins this afternoon for the launch of the Mars Pathfinder mission.

Let me also express my gratitude to the brave men and women of our space program, past and present, and especially those who have given their lives in this noble endeavor. I want to say a special word about the Discovery crew that is here with us today. They are doing remarkable work—I mean, they're up there right now. We wish them Godspeed on their journey home. And to all the people of NASA, many of whom I've had the privilege to meet with and discuss the space program with over the last 4 years, let me thank them for all they do. When we see them on film, they make it look so easy, but we know it isn't. We know that their dedication, their service, their knowledge is truly extraordinary.

When Dr. Lucid began her education, it took faith as well as intellect to be a female rocket scientist. Now she has exceeded a universe of expectation. Perhaps more than even she knows, she set a remarkable example for a new generation of young Americans, especially young women, who look up to her and see possibilities that are new and uncharted for their own lives. Our young people, like those who are here today, will be doing work that hasn't been invented yet. Many will be doing work, as I have often said, that has not been imagined yet. We owe it to them to continue in the American tradition of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge.

I now have the honor of presenting the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Dr. Shannon Lucid, the first scientist and the first woman to receive this award. What she did while journeying among the stars is a proud example of what all of us should try to do more of here on Earth.

I'd like now to ask the military aide to read the citation.

[At this point, Lt. Comdr. June Ryan, USCG, Coast Guard aide to the President, read the citation, and the President presented the medal. Dr. Lucid and Commander Readdy then made brief remarks.]

Second Term Transition

Q. Mr. President, do you have a Secretary of State for your next term?

The President. When I have an announcement, I will make it. [Laughter] Let me say to all of you, you can hear that my voice is better but not fully recovered. I took 4 days off with my family, indeed, my extended family—I even had my two nephews up at Camp David. It's the longest time I've had off without any work in more than a year. Even in my vacation last summer, I worked most of the time I was there. I'm trying to rest my voice. I tried to do a little work and found I simply couldn't make telephone calls. So I had 4 days off; I hope you did. And I expect to work hard this week, and I'll be making some announcements as they're ready to make. It won't be too long.

Gun Control Legislation

Q. Are you challenging the challenge to the Brady law that's coming up tomorrow in the Supreme Court, Mr. President?

The President. Excuse me?

Q. The challenge to the Brady law that's coming up in the Supreme Court, do you have any comments on that?

The President. Well, I believe it's constitutional, and I believe that we have clearly preserved the right to keep and bear arms, consistent with the Constitution in this country. But we have also made America a safer place. And there are tens of thousands of people with criminal backgrounds and other serious problems that couldn't get handguns because of the Brady law. People are alive today because of it. It's a better country because of it. At the very last of the last Congress, many who had previously ferociously opposed it voted with me to extend it to cover cases of domestic violence, which I very much appreciated. So I think we're better off, and I certainly hope that the constitutionality will be upheld.

Riady Letter

Q. There's a report today that Mr. Riady gave you foreign policy advice and that the White House sat on the letter until now.

The President. On the what?

Q. Did not disclose——

The President. There was a Wall Street Journal article about a letter that I received in '93, which I think—which Mike McCurry says has been—the information has been out there for some time. It's just a very—it's a letter like tens of thousands of other letters I get, people suggesting every day—I get, I suppose, hundreds every day suggesting what our policy ought to be in various areas. And we will make that letter available to Congress, after which I'm sure it will be made available to you. But you will see it's a straightforward policy letter, the kind of thing that I think people ought to feel free to write the President about.

Campaign Finance Inquiry

Q. What's your response to the call from GOP Senators on hearings——

The President. On what?

Q. ——on donations to the Democratic National Committee—[inaudible].

The President. They'll have to do their business. They can do whatever they think is right. It's all—I'm going to spend my time working on what I can do.

And let me again say to the Russian Ambassador how glad we are to have you here, sir, today. And today the Vice President has flown to Lisbon; he will be there with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin at the OSCE meeting. We're all thrilled at the reports we get of President Yeltsin's excellent recovery from his surgery. And this is the kind of partnership that we are working hard to build between our two nations. And we are honored to have you here, and we look forward to more of the same.

Thank you, and thank you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:37 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Yuliy Vorontsov; Dr. Lucid's husband, Michael; Indonesian businessman Mochtar Riady; and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and President Boris Yeltsin of Russia.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Astronaut Shannon Lucid and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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