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Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to James A. Lovell, Jr., and an Exchange With Reporters

July 26, 1995

The President. I am delighted to be here with all these distinguished Members of Congress. I hope I don't miss any. I have Senators Mikulski, Burns, Heflin, Glenn; Members of the House, Congressmen Hall, Sensenbrenner, Cramer, Chapman, and Mineta. I also want to thank Dr. Jack Gibbons, my science adviser, for being here and for his support of the space program and, of course, Dan Goldin, the Administrator of NASA, who told me just a few moments before coming out here that he worked on the engine as a young scientist that brought Jim Lovell home safely. So he's—[applause]—we thank you for that. And of course, we're delighted to have Pete Conrad, a former astronaut and a Space Medal recipient here, and Tom Hanks and his son, Colin, are here. They're here not only because of "Apollo 13" but because when they make the sequel to "Forrest Gump," now he won't have to have a computergenerated President. [Laughter]

Most of America is now familiar with the five words spoken by Gene Kranz when he was Flight Commander of Apollo 13 because of the wonderful movie that so many of us have seen: Failure is not an option. That was the creed for the Apollo 13 crew and for the dedicated people of Mission Control and throughout NASA during those difficult days of April 1970.

Everyone connected with the mission understood that it was imperative to work together and to remain diligent in the face of enormous obstacles. The words "failure is not an option" have meaning far beyond that one extraordinary mission. In many ways, they have become, for millions of Americans seeing that movie, a statement of the national purpose we all need as we move toward a new century and a new and uncharted time here on Earth.

The space program was born of competition with the Soviet Union, but it sowed the seeds for peaceful cooperation today. We enjoy with the Russians today a remarkable partnership, which we saw recently in that astonishing rendezvous between the shuttle and the Mir. By replacing warheads with space capsules atop the Saturn V rocket, we launched more than a space program; we launched the beginning of the end of the cold war.

Although we face great challenges today, I think we all know deep down inside that if we can muster the same determination, dedication, commitment, and sense of partnership that we saw in the story of the heroes of Apollo 13, we will get the job done.

I am so honored to have Captain and Mrs. Lovell with us today. And to Jim Lovell: And now all America knows more clearly than they have for 25 years that while you may have lost the Moon, as the phrase goes, you gained something perhaps far more important, the abiding respect and gratitude of the American people. And you gained another important foothold in the long struggle here in the United States to maintain our space program and to make it a part of our definition of what it means to be an American and to fight for the future.

What you did up there and what you have accomplished in your life here on Earth continues to be an inspiration to all your fellow Americans. And therefore, I am honored to present to you, in the presence of two former recipients, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. I thank Peter Conrad and my good friend Senator John Glenn for being here and for their contributions to the space program and to the welfare of the United States.

And I'd like to say, thank you, again, Captain Lovell, on behalf of all Americans. I'd like to ask my military aide now to read the citation.

[At this point, Lt. Comdr. June E. Ryan, USCG, read the citation.]

Captain Lovell. Mr. President and distinguished guests, you know, I humbly accept this medal as Commander of Apollo 13, but with the understanding, really, that it was the efforts and the intuition and the teamwork of my crewmates, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, and the hundreds of people within NASA and the contractor group that really worked hard to make this team effort and the success of Apollo 13 to come back to be a successful recovery.

And so, thank you very much. I really do appreciate this.


Q. Mr. President, do you think that the Senate vote on the arms lift is a repudiation of your policies?

The President. No, I think it is an expression of the concern the Senate has for the inability of the United Nations mission in the past to do what it said it was going to do and to protect the people of Bosnia from the aggression of the Serbs.

And I think the—first of all, I think in the adoption of the amendment by Senator Nunn and in several other ways the resolution is better than it was. Secondly, I noted from the comments that there are many people who voted in the majority who are still willing to work with us.

I do not believe the strong course for the United States and the strong course for the people of Bosnia is to unilaterally lift the arms embargo, collapse the U.N. mission, and increase the chances of injecting American troops there. I don't believe that. I think the strong course is to have a powerful use of air power and to support the rapid reaction force that the French and the British are putting on the ground that they have proved will attack back if they're attacked.

I have worked for 10 days to get NATO the ability to act through the United Nations to really use that air power to raise the price of aggression for the Bosnian Serbs. That is the only thing that has worked in the last 2 1/2 years, and it has worked when we have done it.

And I will say that in London over the weekend and then yesterday at NATO we have made substantial progress. We have a commitment now to a much tougher air posture. That is the only thing that we know based on our own experience that has a chance of working and pushing this whole process back to the conference table and stopping the aggression.

So I think the Congress wants something done. I do, too. I do not believe a unilateral lift of the embargo is the right way to go. I believe that there is clear evidence from the speeches that were made, the amendments that were adopted, the votes that were cast, that we're going to be able to work together and continue to push for a strong position. But I don't favor a unilateral lift. I think what we're doing with the use of air power is by far the better course, as long as the allies will do what they say they're going to do. And I believe now, after 10 days of hard work, we have got that done.

Q. [Inaudible]—Boutros Boutros-Ghali will that make it easier for you to coordinate Washington policy?

The President. Because he has delegated the authority? Absolutely. And I applaud that. That was the right decision for him to take, and it shows that he, too, is concerned that the United Nations cannot express a commitment to protect the security of people and then walk away from it. I applaud the statement that he made and the action he took today.

Q. Do you wish maybe he had said it a little sooner than just the exact time of the vote?

The President. Well, of course, but you know, the whole world can't calibrate their activities based on what we're doing here at a given moment. I think that the United Nations is working their way through this. And keep in mind, they've had people on the ground. They haven't wanted to have their hostages taken and then been made vulnerable to being killed or tortured or imprisoned for long periods of time. But if the United Nations guarantees the security of certain areas and certain standards of conduct, then we have to stand behind the guarantees.

I think President Chirac and Prime Minister Major, in putting together this rapid reaction force, and then the work that I was able to do to get them to come back to a clear line of authority to use aggressive air—that is the strong approach. That is the approach that we know from experience has a chance to work, to raise the price of aggression.

The other course has a lot of downsides, and we don't know if it will work. We know this will work if we do it. And I am determined to see that we follow through.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:45 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to actor Tom Hanks; United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; President Jacques Chirac of France; and Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom.

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

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