Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Luncheon Honoring the Astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia

May 19, 1981

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. And before we say anything at all or I make any remarks—because there are many here who probably don't know that in addition to the men we're honoring today, that there are in our midst, as a great part of this audience, many who have been those pioneers out into space, our astronauts going back to the very beginning of the program. Could I ask that all of you who fit that description, all of you, to please stand up?

Well, we're in very distinguished company, believe me. Commander Young and Captain Crippen, all the world held its breath in the silent moments of your reentry, and when we finally heard your voices again, all the world knew America had begun a new age.

A few moments ago, I had the privilege of decorating Commander Young and Captain Crippen for their personal courage and the honor they have brought to our nation, and also honored Dr. Alan Lovelace, who is here with us today, but more about that later. I presented to John Young the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, our highest award for achievements in space, and to both him and Bob Crippen, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the space agency can bestow.

These men have traveled across the country since their shuttle flight, and I think they now must be conscious of and realize that to all America they have now become John and Bob. The American people have welcomed them with tremendous affection, and no wonder. Through them, we've all been part of a greatness pushing wider the boundaries of our freedom. As I told them before they took off, through them we all felt as giants once again. And once again, we felt the surge of pride that comes from knowing that we're the first and we're the best—and we are so because we're free.

The space shuttle is the world's first true space transportation system. It will be the space workhorse for many years to come, and soon we'll have the operational capability that will place cargo in orbit for a variety of users. Because we lead the world in science and space travel, we're on the cutting edge of technology and discovery. The shuttle will affect American life in both subtle and dramatic ways, bringing energy and excitement into our national renewal.

The flight of the Columbia was a victory for the American spirit. John Young and Bob Crippen both made us very proud. Their deeds reminded us that we, as a free people, can accomplish whatever we set out to do. Nothing binds our abilities except our expectations, and given that, the farthest star is within our reach.

To paraphrase John Greenleaf Whittier: We are the people who have thrown the windows of our souls wide open to the sun. We will follow as we can where our hearts have long since gone, and progress will be ours for all mankind to share. Americans have shown the world that we not only dream great dreams, we dare to live those great dreams.

And now, I would like to introduce a man whose leadership and high standards have made the success of the Columbia possible. Ladies and gentlemen, the acting director of NASA, Dr. Alan M. Lovelace.

Dr. Lovelace. I'd like to ask John and Bob to join me. And, Vice President Bush, would you please join me at the podium?

Mr. President, I'd like to just say one brief remark—and I know I speak for myself, I think I speak for everybody in NASA—and that is, we thank you for the opportunity to serve the country, and we are prepared to continue to do that.

I would like now to present to you, Mr. President, your flag that was flown on the first flight of the Columbia.

The President. Thank you very much.

Dr. Lovelace. And, Mr. Vice President, a flag for you, sir.

The Vice President. Thank you very much.

Dr. Lovelace. Mr. President, we had the pleasure of hosting Vice President Bush at the Kennedy Space Center some weeks ago, and on that occasion, we presented him with a flight jacket. We brought yours here to Washington, and I'd like to present it to you today. Suitable for flying or riding. [Laughter]

Mr. Young. It's a great honor for Bob and I to be here today. And we'd also like to make a presentation to the President that tells, for all of you who contributed so much to this program, just exactly what it's all about. Could you unveil that, please?

[A plaque detailing the history of the space shuttle program was unveiled.]

It's always significant to me that the United States flag is the biggest thing on there. Let's never forget that. And this, to the Vice President, the same kind of memento.

The President. You won't mind if I only wear this within Earth's atmosphere. [Laughter] But, thank you all very much. And now, I think there's two individuals here that you'd like to meet also, because I think they have to be just as courageous or even more so than those who make the flight. I think you'd like to see Mrs. Young and Mrs. Crippen. Would you stand, please?

And we're back at ground zero; we have landed successfully. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in a tent constructed for the luncheon in the Rose Garden at the White House.

In an Oval Office ceremony prior to the luncheon, the President presented the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to John W. Young and Capt. Robert L. Crippen, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Mr. Young for his 16-year service in the space program, and the Presidential Citizens Medal to Dr. Alan M. Lovelace, Acting Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Vice President, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and members of the White House staff also attended the ceremony.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Luncheon Honoring the Astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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