Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Electronic Industries Association's Annual Government-Industry Dinner

April 19, 1988

I thank you for that welcome, and a special thank you to your chairman, John Mitchell, and your president, Peter McCloskey, the reverend clergy. And let me also give my congratulations to your Medal of Honor winner for this year, educator, scientist, executive, and leader, Joseph Boyd. And I know that I am not an after-dinner speaker tonight. [Laughter] And I assure you that I will keep that in mind. [Laughter]

I will, as Henry VIII said to each of his six wives, "I won't keep you long." [Laughter] But it's a pleasure to appear before this, the oldest and largest organization representing the cutting edge of America's technological future, the industries that are leading the way for America and the world into the third industrial revolution. Henry David Thoreau once said that "This world is but a canvas for our imaginations." And if any people in the world prove that, it's you. Time and again over the past 100 years, electronics has bounded beyond the imaginations of even the most sophisticated observers.

Ninety-one years ago, for example, one of the most distinguished scientists not only of his time but of all time, Lord Kelvin, offered this assessment of what was then only a theoretical possibility: radio. He said, and these are his words, "Radio has no future." [Laughter] Well, less than 30 years later the father of radio, Lee DeForest, showed that he wasn't infallible either when he said that, "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility." [Laughter] And then there was the president of a major computer company who said only 11 years ago, and I'll quote again: "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." [Laughter]

Yes, when I look at the history of your industries, it reminds me of a story about a producer I once knew in Hollywood. I was under contract to the Warner Brothers, and one of the brothers, Jack Warner—you may remember the classic film "The Story of Louis Pasteur." It concerned, of course, the great French scientist and ignored many doubters in the scientific community of his time and succeeded in developing the pasteurization process for sterilizing milk. It starred Paul Muni and won him an Academy Award, an Oscar. It was an outstanding movie and a hit. But Jack was very skeptical about making it. He finally agreed only under protest. It would be a bust, he predicted, because, after all, it was, just as he said, "the story of a milkman." [Laughter]

Well, tonight I'd like to talk with you about our nation's commitment to leadership and imagination, and your role in America's future. I'm talking about our space program. I believe it is time to look ahead and envision breaking the bounds of earthbound imagination and to begin to conceive of a gist century. The national aerospace plane is an important investment in our future. Its technologies will yield routine access to space. We will be capable of taking off from Dulles Airport in a second generation shuttle, leaping into space, and docking with the space station, almost like taking off from Washington for London. Not only the Moon but the entire solar system beckons, which is why I have issued a new national space policy that reaffirms the goal of U.S. leadership in space and sets a new long-term goal of expanding human exploration into the solar system. In the coming year's budget I've asked for $100 million to initiate Project Pathfinder. I've said "initiate"; the Pathfinder technology will lay the foundation for potential manned and unmanned missions beyond the Earth's orbit. And I look to the time, before the end of the first decade of the next century, when we may have manned visits to other planets.

The space station is vital to our leadership in space and contributes to our preeminence in manned space flight. Some say we can't afford the space station. I ask you: Can America ever afford to stop dreaming great dreams? And can we afford to jettison the next generation of technical spin-offs? Just think about the thousands of discoveries, all the commercial and industrial products and techniques that came because we developed the technology to go to the Moon. We hear a great deal about American competitiveness. Other nations often cite our major scientific programs as among our greatest competitive advantages, and they're right. Tonight I ask Congress and all the American people to join me in making the long-term investment required to advance U.S. leadership in space. We must begin that investment by funding the increases I've proposed for our civil space program. Can we afford to stop our exploration and wait for others to pass us?

And exploration is not all we want. Recently, we announced that it would be the policy of the Government to encourage private sector investment and involvement in outer space. We are now committed to being the anchor tenant in a privately financed, constructed, and operated commercial research and manufacturing facility. We'll help develop a highway to space by using private launch services to the greatest extent feasible, and we're working to win legislation to limit liability for commercial launch providers. We'll make equipment, like the external fuel tanks of the shuttle fleet, available to private commercial and nonprofit ventures in space. And we're looking at ways to avoid precluding or deterring American private enterprise in taking commercial advantage of the unique aspects of the space environment.

To do our part in building on the base of technology and talent we'll need, we're instituting policies to turn federally funded discoveries into commercial products and technologies. We're encouraging Federal scientists, engineers, and technicians to take sabbatical years to teach at any level of American education. We're opening the way for even greater contacts between NASA and schools and universities. And we're emphasizing the importance of the superconducting supercollider to the advancement of science.

It's a future beyond the most distant star in our dreams that beckons us. And to those who say it can't be reached, that it's impossible, I'd just point toward your industries and ask if a few years ago they thought what you are doing today would also be impossible. Carver Mead, professor of computer sciences at the California Institute of Technology, recently noted that "the entire Industrial Revolution enhanced productivity by a factor of about 100. The Microelectronic Revolution has already increased productivity in information-based technology by a factor of more than a million, and the end isn't in sight yet." Is that the accomplishment of people who listened when others used the word impossible?

More than any other group, you embody America's capacity to dream. More than any other group, yes, we've challenged America's scientists to help find a safe and effective means to protect our borders and those of our allies by developing technologies for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Five years ago, I proposed SDI, and much to my satisfaction, we've made tremendous progress in that research. We must not stop dreaming because a few naysayers insist on limiting our options for a safe and secure future.

I ask each of you today to carry out your dreams and to continue to make this nation the greatest innovator in the world. I ask you today to help us all with our feet on the ground to look to the stars and, in doing that, to remain number one in technology here on Earth. And if even some of you still think that maybe I'm being too optimistic, you're hearing all this from a fellow who was a second lieutenant in the horse cavalry. [Laughter] With that, I think it's high time that you enjoy dinner. I thank you all. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 8:38 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Electronic Industries Association's Annual Government-Industry Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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