Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Presentation of NASA Exceptional Service Awards Following the Flight of Gemini 4.

June 17, 1965

Mr. Vice President, Administrator Webb, and all of the McDivitts, and the Whites, and the Mathews, large and small:

I hope it is not too much of a disappointment for you younger members of the families to settle for the White House instead of the ranch house.

I had planned this morning to salute the astronauts as colonels, but your alma mater-Michigan--seems to have topped that. So, I suppose I should just greet you here in the Rose Garden as Dr. McDivitt and Dr. White.

One week ago, at the spacecenter in Houston, I extended you my own very personal greetings. Today, I am very proud to offer to you--and to Mr. Mathews--the appreciation, and gratitude, and the very special congratulations of an admiring Nation.

All your countrymen are very proud of you, and are proud of all who contributed to the success of your historic mission--and they are legion.

While he never likes to be included, and he rarely is included in our public remarks, this morning I am going to take a moment to express my deep, personal gratitude and my admiration to the man whose ability and whose great brain, whose energy and whose diligence, whose imagination and initiative and abiding faith represent one of America's major assets--the Administrator of NASA, Jim Webb.

I asked him to come to the Senate Office Building in the Capitol before he took this job and asked him to take it. He turned me down. I asked him to come back again. The second time he did not turn me down. I asked Dr. Dryden to come up there. And that morning we presented them to each other, and they have made a fine team and developed a team that is unequaled in this country. And every American ought to be grateful to those two men, and all of the people who work under them, because their achievements have been unbelievable and have been phenomenal, and we are deeply in their debt.

I said to one of the members of the Cabinet the other day what I thought about Jim Webb. And he said, "Why don't you have him in your Cabinet?" I said, "I would have if his job weren't more important." And that is how we feel about the space effort in this country. There is just no job that is more important.

Also, there is another whose role is growing every day in the space field as in many other vital fields. The imagination and the application and the inspiration that he has given this program, and the executive branch, and the legislative branch, should be acknowledged this morning. He is a man whose judgment I value highly, whose friendship I cherish deeply, and in whom I have complete and absolute confidence--the Chairman of the National Space Council, the Vice president of the United States, Hubert Humphrey.

Now, if everything had not gone right, the men responsible for it having gone wrong are also here. They are the chairmen of the Senate committees, and the members of the House and Senate Space Committees. And I hope that their constituents and the people of a grateful Nation will take due notice of the great successful enterprise that they have contributed to, which we have just completed and for which we will continue to work in the future.

Back in 1958, when we were making the great effort to launch this Nation's serious space effort, there were those in the Senate, and some elsewhere, who scoffed at our interest in space, who laughed at it, who ridiculed it--to borrow a memorable phrase-but not Senator Humphrey.

Ten years ago, in July 1955, President Eisenhower first announced this country's plan to orbit several small, unmanned satellites during the International Geophysical Year. And the leaders of both parties worked and planned to bring the Space Administration into existence. President Eisenhower was the leader of our country at that time, and he made valuable contributions, and I want to thank him for his leadership.

Our purpose then was to cooperate with other nations in the peaceful exploration of the domain of space. And that has been our unchanging purpose every minute, every step of the way since then.

It is our purpose still.

In 1961, under our beloved President John F. Kennedy, we committed ourselves as a Nation to achieving leadership in space. For wherever there is an opportunity to advance the hopes for peace, America intends to be second to none.

And there is a hope--a strong and a genuine and living hope--that cooperation in exploring the avenues of space could lead men and nations to cooperate in exploring the avenues to peace on earth.

In terms of our national goals of leadership in space, it can be said--and it should be said--that the brilliant performance of both spacecraft and crew on the flight of the Gemini 4, together with the progress on our Apollo program, clearly indicates that the United States of America has closed the gap in manned space flight.

But I believe that the Gemini 4 has done more than that.

Your successful mission has raised hopes-at home and abroad--that the day may now be much nearer when all the world can enjoy the benefits of close cooperation among all nations in exploring and using space for the common good and for the peaceful interests of mankind.

Americans noted with great satisfaction the message that you received, shortly after you landed in the Atlantic, from Major Gagarin. He expressed the hope that all space flights may serve the world and benefit all mankind. And we very much welcome that expression.

While the Gemini 4 was still in orbit, I spoke here in Washington, and I would like to repeat what I said then:

"The need of man--the need of these times in which we live--is not for arms races, and it is not for moon races .... If competition there must be, we are ready and we are willing to take up the challenges and commit our country to its tasks. But this is a moment when the opportunity is open and beckoning for men of all nations to take together a walk toward peace in space."

That is no new impetuous thought on my part. That is the view I expressed in 1958--

7 years ago-when I was privileged to present, at the request of the President of our country, President Eisenhower, America's proposals on space to the United Nations in New York. That is the view Americans will always have in their hearts, and that spirit is not new.

In 1958, while I was serving as leader of my party in the Senate, President Eisenhower asked me to present this Nation's proposals to the United Nations for cooperation among all nations in the peaceful exploration of space.

On November 17th of that year, I said to the United Nations in New York, and I quote:

"Men who have worked together to reach the stars are not likely to descend together into the depths of war and desolation . . . Barriers between us will fall as our sights rise to space."

The sights of mankind are rising. And I hope and I am confident that barriers between us must and will begin to fall.

We know that you men of Gemini have opened the doors to space a great deal wider. And how much more we would prefer to see you all riding together in a spaceship to a new adventure, to conquering a new world, than to shoot down each other's planes, as we had to last night.

So, we can hope and we can trust that others will recognize--and I want to emphasize again, and again, and again--that the doors to cooperation and peace are opened wider, too. And here, in America, we welcome those who want to join us with open arms,

If men and nations will reason together, if they will cooperate together, if they will make the improvement of the condition of man their common goal, then I am confident that we can safely predict--and I do predict here this morning--that during the next decade of the 1970's many more nations will be joined together in the adventure of space--developing its potential for bettering life on this earth. And my, what a glorious moment that will be when those nations do join with us!

For 8 years I have believed--as I believe now--that space is the great breakthrough for humankind. Human progress has never come on a slow and steady curve. But progress comes by great advances which move us forward, which cause many other obstacles to fall aside.

So here, to this little group this morning at this very special occasion, I am confident that the breakthrough in space will permit all mankind--in developed nations and emerging nations--to overcome and leave behind many obstacles that today retard human progress in health, that retard human progress in education, in agriculture, in the control of weather and man's environment, in industry and economic growth, and, above all, in understanding among nations.

So, you are the Christopher Columbuses of the 20th century. You are the peacemakers. Peace is your mission. And notwithstanding the great advance that your performance will bring us in science, in agriculture, in controlling the weather, in all the things that we knew not of, your greatest contribution will be "peace is your mission." And ultimately you will be the men, and those associated with you, who brought us all together.

So, this is a very happy moment for you, and for your families, and for your Nation.

You are symbols of a new world. You are symbols of a new horizon. You are symbols of a new potential--not just for yourself or your country, but for 3 billion human beings everywhere. All our thoughts leap forward to the kind of world we want to pass on to these youngsters in your fine families. And not just your kids; we want to do it for all the children on the earth, wherever they live.

So, let us then here--in this peaceful garden of the White House, whose occupants all have and all still do work for peace throughout the world--let us stress again our readiness to join hands and minds and technologies with all men who seek the betterment of mankind on the way to the stars.

And that is what you do seek. Not just scientific knowledge. Not just weather information. Not just to dominate space as we dominated the air since World War II, and as the British dominated the seas for generations. But so that you may lay the stone that ultimately builds the walk to understanding between men.

Now, I have not been successful, but I did try to participate. I tried to persuade my Secretary of State and my Administrator of NASA to not only have you come to Washington to appear as a symbol of the 20th century, our progress in bettering mankind, but I also expressed the hope that it might be possible for you to inspire the peoples of the world, as you are inspiring those here in the Capital of the United States today. And I am sorry that you are not going abroad tomorrow. It is not my fault, but I am going to keep working at it.

Now I know that you don't want to listen to speeches all day. You came here to the White House. But the person that is providing great leadership and inspiration, not only in this field but in many other fields of this Government, is Chairman of the National Space Council, and we honor and we respect and I particularly applaud the way he has come into this new undertaking and picked it up and provided it with leadership and stimulation and inspiration. And I am just going to insist that I be permitted to listen to a very brief speech, the kind of speech he used to make in the Senate--and, with amendment, I want to strike that word brevity. Vice President Humphrey.

Note: The President spoke at 11 :45 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House before the presentation of NASA Exceptional Service Medals to Lt. Col. James A. McDivitt and Lt. Col. Edward H. White 2d, Gemini 4 astronauts, and to Charles W. Mathews, manager of the Gemini space flight program.

In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and James E. Webb, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Later he referred to Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, Deputy Administrator of NASA, and to Maj. Yuri Gagarin, Soviet astronaut.

Following the President's remarks the Vice President spoke briefly. The text of his remarks was also made public by the White House.

See also Items 304, 310, 320.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Presentation of NASA Exceptional Service Awards Following the Flight of Gemini 4. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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