John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Presentation of NASA's Distinguished Service Medal to Astronaut Alan B. Shepard.

May 08, 1961

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express on behalf of all of us the great pleasure we have in welcoming Commander Shepard and Mrs. Shepard here today. I think they know as citizens of this great country how proud we are of him, what satisfaction we take in his accomplishment, what a service he has rendered our country. And we are also very proud of Mrs. Shepard.

I know that the other members of this team who are astronauts know that our pride in them is equal. They have been part of this effort from the beginning. Commander Shepard has pointed out from the time that this flight began and from the time this flight was a success, that this was a common effort in which a good many men were involved. I think it does credit to him that he is associated with such a distinguished group of Americans whom we are all glad to honor today, his companions in the flight into outer space, so I think we want to give them all a hand. They are the tanned and healthy ones--the others are Washington employees!

I also want to pay particular tribute to some of the people who worked on this flight: Robert Gilruth, Director of the Space Task Force at Langley Field; Walter Williams, the Operations Director of Project Mercury; the NASA Deputy Administrator, Dr. Hugh Dryden; Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr.--and of course, James Webb, who is head of NASA.

Most of these names are unfamiliar, but if this flight had not been an overwhelming success, these names would be very familiar to everyone. So I think it is very appropriate that in this success that their work should be acknowledged.

And I also want to take cognizance of the fact that this flight was made out in the open with all the possibilities of failure, which would have been damaging to our country's prestige. Because great risks were taken in that regard, it seems to me that we have some right to claim that this open society of ours which risked much, gained much.

Now I want to give this award.

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awards to Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding contributions to space technology. His flight as the first United States astronaut was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of human knowledge of space technology, and a demonstration of man's capabilities in sub-orbital space flight. Signed and sealed in Washington this fifth day of May, 1961. James E. Webb, the Administrator of NASA, and Hugh L. 'Dryden, the Deputy Administrator of NASA."

This is a civilian award for a great civilian accomplishment, and therefore I want to again express my congratulations to Alan Shepard. We are very proud of him, and I speak on behalf of the Vice President, who is Chairman of our Space Council and who bears great responsibilities in this field, and the Members of the House and Senate Space Committee who are with us today.

Note: The President spoke in the Rose Garden at the White House.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Presentation of NASA's Distinguished Service Medal to Astronaut Alan B. Shepard. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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