Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the 15th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing

July 20, 1984

The President. That announcement left a little something out. 1 It should have been at least "and company." [Laughter]

Well, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins, Jim Beggs, and all our Apollo astronauts, the men and women of NASA here and those watching from NASA locations around the country, our friends out at the Space Pavilion at the World's Fair in New Orleans, and ladies and gentlemen:

It's a great pleasure to welcome you here to the White House. And as I look around, I can't help thinking that I haven't seen so many stars in one place since I was on a backlot of Warner Brothers. [Laughter]

We celebrate today a unique moment in the history of mankind—Eagle's touchdown near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquility. It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since we first heard Neil Armstrong's words. I know it's been that long, but why don't any of you look any older? [Laughter]

Today's celebration also brings back a very fond memory. In August 1969, after a long quarantine, the White House honored the Apollo 11 crew with a dinner in California. As Governor, I had the opportunity to introduce the President, and I remember looking out at our dinner guests—Ambassadors and other representatives from 83 countries, 44 State Governors, 50 Members of the Congress, 14 members of the Cabinet, and the leadership of NASA—and thinking that the men and women of NASA changed forever our concept of the universe and our relation to it. No longer could there be any mistake about the common heritage and common destiny of all people.

The Apollo program was a noble achievement of the mind, the heart, and spirit-and the most ambitious and complex program ever undertaken in peacetime. The lunar landings were a dazzling triumph of exploration. The Mayflower did sail on. Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee opened the trail, and we'll always remember their tragic sacrifice. But the program went on, and 12 Americans landed on the Moon.

By the end of the Apollo program, the Columbia, the Endeavor, the America, and the other command modules had returned 27 Apollo astronauts safely from the Moon and its vicinity. And, oh, how our astronauts, with their quiet confidence, superb professionalism, and inner strength, lifted our feelings, our spirits, and our feeling of good will.

Apollo enriched our intellectual and economic life and awakened us to mankind's boundless horizon. We carried a new sense of pride and became more confident that we've only seen the beginning of what a free and a courageous people can do. And, of course, the Apollo program was a supreme test of technology, always at and often beyond the cutting edge.

Never before had the requirements of reliability, accuracy, and efficiency been as demanding. Never before had the quality assurance testing for each of the thousands and thousands of components been as relentless, and our developers and inventors responded with unprecedented creativity. Our finest minds in government, industry, and universities all pulled together, and one sparkling technical innovation followed another. Which one of you, or was it someone else, however, that sat there at takeoff and said that your mind was on the fact that this had been built by the lowest bidder? [Laughter]

But all the while, our space research and engineering served the down-to-earth needs of our own people and people everywhere.

The Apollo project spawned communications, weather, navigation, and Earth resource satellites, and many new industries like solid-state electronics, medical electronics, and computer sciences. It opened the door to exciting scientific and commercial opportunities, opportunities like the programmable heart pacemaker which uses technology first developed to send coded instructions to orbiting satellites. Cordless home appliances and surgical instruments grew out of requirements of Apollo's lunar experiments. Even the fabric roof of Pontiac, Michigan's Silver Dome, home of the Detroit Lions, was made from the product developed for NASA's space suit.

The era of Apollo helped us build a technological base that was second to none, but we've only touched the edge of possibilities in space. The Apollo experience was only a beginning for America. From Apollo came the shuttle, the world's first true space transportation system, and another victory for the American spirit. The space shuttle opened a new era to pursue the many scientific, educational, industrial, and commercial opportunities of space, and as long as we challenge our imagination and aim high, there's no end to the potential of space.

There's never a time when we can stop moving forward, when we can stop dreaming. And so, this past January, in my State of the Union Address, I challenged our nation to develop a permanently manned space station and to do so within a decade. And I'm very pleased that the Congress has authorized funds enabling NASA to take the first steps in the design of America's space station.

The footprints on the Moon showed us that America's future can be determined by our dreams and our visions. The shuttle and our space station will help make those dreams come true. Our freedom and wellbeing are tied to new achievements and pushing back new frontiers. We'll push back those frontiers and open new doors to discovery, opportunity, and progress.

I also said in that State of the Union Address that we would soon develop initiatives to help promote private sector investment in space, and we're now embarking on that course. We'll do all we can to ensure that industry has a routine access to space and a suitable, reliable place to work there. And we'll do this without needless regulatory constraints. Eleven successful shuttle flights mean that we're on the verge of a space transportation system that can dependably support space industries.

And the benefits our people can receive from the commercial use of space literally dazzle the imagination. Together we can produce rare medicines with the potential of saving thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. We can manufacture superchips that improve our competitive position in the world computer market. We can build space observatories enabling scientists to see out to the edge of the universe. And we can produce special alloys and biological materials that benefit greatly from a zero-gravity environment. By accepting the challenge of space we'll carry forward the same courage and indomitable spirit that made us a great nation and that carried our Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

As you know, Dr. George Low, the guiding light behind the Apollo program, passed away earlier this week. Dr. Low began his career as a research scientist and progressed to key leadership positions in the manned space flight program, including manager of the Apollo spacecraft program. He played a leading role in all the Apollo missions and directed the Apollo 11 flight.

Dr. Low also served as Deputy Administrator and Acting Administrator of NASA and was instrumental in the planning of the shuttle program. For the past 8 years, he continued his lifelong efforts to build a better tomorrow while serving as president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

We're grateful for what George Low has done and the ideals he stood for, and we'll miss him very much. I know you join Nancy and me in extending heartfelt condolences to the Low family.

But I'm sure George Low would be pleased that we're honoring our achievements and the promise of space with a proclamation designating today as "Space Exploration Day." Let us use this occasion as a commitment to our future, to the best of America. And let it be a reminder of America's spirit of exploration, our desire to cross new horizons and to learn more about ourselves and the world around us.

And now I will sign the proclamation. I thank you, and God bless you all. And I can't help but think—all the things I've been saying here about the progress that's been made—I, a one-time second lieutenant of horse cavalry, will now sign the space proclamation.

[At this point, the President signed the proclamation.]

Mr. Armstrong. May I respond?

The President. You may. [Laughter] Please do.

Mr. Armstrong. Mr. President, what a wonderful occasion this is. We have here today a very large fraction of the people who, over the first quarter-century of the space age, conceived, executed, managed, and flew those flights that made their mark on the last quarter of this century.

May I also speak on behalf of these people and say how much we share your belief that the progress made during that first faltering two decades plus of the space age has been important to our country and citizens around the world and how much we appreciate your commitment to continued progress in these areas, as expressed in your State of the Union Address and confirmed here today.

And on behalf of all of us at NASA, my crew here on the stage, may we leave you with a small memento representing the 15th anniversary of this flight, where we carried this American flag to the Moon and returned it.

The President. Well, thank you very much.

Thank you all again. You're still beyond-all of you—my capacity to imagine. I remember my first time out there at Edwards for the landing of the shuttle, and they hurried us up on the platform and said, "It's coming in." And, so, I hurried up there and started watching the sky. And I said, "Where is it?" And they said, "It's over Honolulu." [Laughter] And we were just in time. [Laughter]

1 Customarily, the President is announced to an audience as he enters the room.

Note: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the 15th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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