Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Commemorating the Bicentennial Year of Air and Space Flight

February 07, 1983

Welcome to the White House. Today we're gathered to acknowledge the bicentennial of air and space travel. It all started 200 years ago at La Muette, France, with man's first flight in a hot air balloon. Ten years later, President George Washington, along with four future presidents—Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—witnessed the first successful free flight in America.

Now, even though I had a birthday yesterday, I was not present— [laughter] —at that occasion.

But just how far we've come was brought home to me and to the American people last Fourth of July, when we witnessed the return of the space shuttle, the Columbia, in the California desert. And it still baffles my imagination. They told us to come up on the platform there where we were to witness the landing of that craft and all, and then told us that it was on its approach pattern for the landing just out over Honolulu, and we were at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Today we stand on the edge of a world in which opportunities are limited only by our own imagination. Our leadership in the air and space technology, a leadership we're determined to maintain, has already provided the American people with a rich bounty that has strengthened our economy and bettered our lives.

And this is not a new revolution or revelation. Back in 1969, as the Governor of California, I commissioned a task force on aerospace aviation education so that our young citizens could be prepared for future opportunities in this field. In a program similar to this, and consistent with the thrust of my State of the Union message, Lynn Helms over at the Federal Aviation Administration tells me he's embarking on a new initiative, an aviation education program that will help our students make sure that when the future gets here, they'll be ready for it.

Aerospace sales today account for 2 percent of gross national product, while the aerospace industry employs more than a million Americans. The industry contributes enormously to our ever more important export earnings, and the technological spin-offs from our air and space endeavors have also improved the competitive edge of a host of air industries. When you add it all up, our country's commitment to the development of air and space technology is one of the best investments the American people have ever made.

But there are benefits you can't find on the ledger sheet. American leadership in air and space has played a significant role in shaping our self-image.

Will Rogers once reflected that "America is never in a better humor or feeling better than when moving." So all this traveling is a mighty good omen. Will was an air enthusiast himself, as we all know. He had insights about the American spirit that were deeper than one might expect at first glance.

We Americans have always been at our best when we've faced challenge—exploring and taming new frontiers, testing our talents and abilities and, yes, moving on. We're a nation that lionizes pathfinders, whether they be Daniel Boone or Charles Lindbergh. Many of tomorrow's heroes, the men and women who will inspire our people and exemplify what it means to be an American, will be individuals who are part of our conquest of the vast frontier of space—a frontier that's always been in sight, but that only now is coming within reach.

Americans played a leading role in developing technology for the conquest of air. It's not mere coincidence that most of the world now travels on American wings, as can be seen on the runways of international airports the world over.

When it comes to the conquest of space, certainly we have competition from friends and adversaries. Well, we welcome it. I firmly believe that space enterprise will bring mankind closer together, even as we compete. We also benefit from cooperation.

On my recent visit to Latin America, I invited Brazil to join us in the use of a space shuttle, an invitation that included the training of a Brazilian who will accompany their payloads on the shuttle. And when I met with Prime Minister Nakasone a few weeks ago, I extended a similar invitation to the Japanese. Our friends and allies in Europe are already working with us. In a few months, a German astronaut, sponsored by the European Space Agency, will fly on the shuttle in a joint U.S.-European space lab mission. In the future, I would hope that joint space ventures will draw all freedom-loving people closer together.

The space shuttle program is a vital part of this effort. To ensure the full potential, I've recently decided that we'll keep the shuttle production lines intact, in order to continue the operation of the shuttle fleet in the most robust manner possible. By doing this, we also preserve the option of building the fifth shuttle to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead.

One man who saw the enormous potential of space was recently elected to the Congress. Sadly, Jack Swigert, a former astronaut, fell victim to cancer before he was able to take that office. But he was a fighter to the end. He was a pioneer. And if Jack Swigert is the kind of man who emerges from the space program, we have reason to be confident about our nation's future.

Jack was a man of strength and principle, of action yet of wisdom, with an abiding faith in his country and our way of life. During his trip to the Moon, Apollo 13, you'll recall, was rocked by an explosion. It was only with courage and extraordinary ingenuity and the grace of God that the crew managed to return safely to Earth.

While running for election last year, Jack had a message for the voters of his district, a message of optimism that I wish all Americans could hear. I was privileged, Jack said, to be one of the few who viewed our Earth from the Moon, and the vision taught me that technology and commitment can overcome any challenge. Pushing back boundaries, overcoming limitations, and conquering new frontiers is what create men like Jack Swigert.

As we celebrate the many events for this bicentennial, let's remember we're celebrating more than the building of flying machines. We're making choices that are shaping the world in which our children will live. Our commitment to air and space is a pledge to them that the quality of our lives will be better and their horizons broader because of technology, of vision, of human qualities that we bring in our generation to conquering the endless cosmic frontier which stretches before us.

I've always believed that mankind is capable of greatness. We haven't even come close yet to reaching our potential. But it depends on us. God gave angels wings. He gave mankind dreams. And with His help, there's no limit to what can be accomplished.

You know, I have to tell you a little personal experience here. I was Governor of California back in the riotous days of the sixties. And I couldn't go to a college football game. There'd be a riot instead. [Laughter] Anyone in authority was in the same position. But I remember one day when a group of the leaders of that came from the campuses of the University of California to Sacramento. They had demanded a meeting with me. Well, I was delighted because, as I say, I couldn't go and meet with them.

So, they came in and, as was the custom of the day of that particular group of young people, they were barefoot, and torn T-shirts, and slouched in their chairs. And finally one of them who was the spokesman said to me, "Governor, it's impossible for you to understand us." And I tried to pass it off. I said, "Well, we know more about being young than we do about being old." And he said, "No, your generation cannot understand their own sons and daughters." He said, "You didn't grow up in an era of space travel, of jet travel, of cybernetics, computers figuring in seconds what it used to take men years to figure out." And he went on like that. And usually you only think of the answer after you're gone, but the Lord was good to me. And he talked long enough that I finally interrupted him, and I said, "Wait a minute. It's true what you said. We didn't grow' up, my generation, with those things. We invented them." [Laughter and applause]

Thank you.

Now, I understand I'm supposed to go over there after I say some hellos up here I want to say. But don't think I'm going to get in that thing. I'm from the horse cavalry. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room to a group of leading figures in aviation, government, diplomacy, the military, and business. There was a large model of the space shuttle Columbia off to the side of the podium, and following his remarks, the President, escorted by Apollo 7 astronaut Michael Collins, inspected the model.

Following the President's remarks, Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., chairman of the bicentennial committee, presented Walter J. Boyne, Acting Director of the National Air and Space Museum, with the Air and Space Bicentennial symbol which flew in space with the Columbia shuttle mission in November 1982. The logo, signed by all four astronauts, was the subject of the first televised commercial from space when mission commander Vance Brand displayed it for television and briefly told the bicentennial story. The logo will be part of the Museum's space collection.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Ceremony Commemorating the Bicentennial Year of Air and Space Flight Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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