Friday, July 24, 2009

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's Remarks

. It's
a privilege to be here tonight. I would like to take a
moment to thank the National Air and Space Museum for
hosting this tremendous event. Let's give them a big round
of applause.
I also would like to thank all of the many very
distinguished guests who are in attendance this evening.
We are honored by your presence. And last but certainly
not least, I would like to thank the Apollo astronauts who
are here tonight. We are here to celebrate your landmark
achievements. The Apollo astronauts are heroes in the
truest sense of the word. Their dedication and bravery in
exploring part of President Kennedy's New Frontier is a
pivotal moment in human history that still will be
celebrated thousands of years from now.
On July 20, 1969, I was a 22-year-old Marine 2nd lieutenant
in flight school, a year from going to Southeast Asia. I had
graduated from the United States Naval Academy a year
earlier in 1968, a year of tremendous social upheaval with
the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby
Kennedy. There were riots across the country, including
here in Washington and at the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago. The nation appeared to be coming
unhinged.
I remember that in the midst of the horror and unrest, 1968
ended on a hopeful note, when Apollo 8 orbited the moon
and, on Christmas Eve, read the first 10 verses from the
book of Genesis. The Apollo 8 astronauts also took the
legendary Earthrise photo. That flight did more to unite the
country and world than any other event that year.
The Apollo 8 mission helped set stage for Apollo 11 six
months later. Forty years ago today, I remember watching
the moon landing from the Bachelor Officer Quarters at
Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi. It was Sunday. A
group of us had just returned from a weekend of revelry in
New Orleans and we gathered to watch this historic event.
As was the case with most Americans and other people
from around the world, it inspired me to explore, and
although I never dreamed of becoming an astronaut at that
time, I set off on a course that eventually would bring me
here today.
Four decades after the Apollo 11 landing, it is clear
Apollo's legacy goes far beyond the moon rocks we
brought back from the lunar surface.
Besides inspiring me, Apollo inspired a generation of
Americans – and other young people around the world – to
study mathematics and science and pursue careers in
aerospace-related fields. Young people helped build Apollo
and you would be hard-pressed to find an engineer at
NASA old enough to remember the Apollo landings who
doesn't put it near the top of the reasons he or she came to
work here. One of our challenges at NASA today is to
inspire this generation of young people the way Apollo
inspired us.
Other impacts of Apollo are even more profound. In some
ways, Apollo fundamentally changed how humankind
views its place in the universe. The Apollo 8 Earthrise
picture was called by one prominent photographer the most
influential environmental photo ever taken. Former Vice
President Al Gore said: "That one picture exploded in the
consciousness of humans . . . Within 18 months of this
picture the environmental movement had begun." The
image showed Earth, according to the Apollo 8 crew, "like
a Christmas tree ornament lit up in space, fragile-looking"
against the blackness of the cosmos and the desolation of
the moon.
Later Apollo crews also remarked on the fragile beauty of
our planet from space, and all of the missions captured
other stunning images, such as the Apollo 17 full Earth
photo. In a sense, by traveling hundreds of thousands of
miles to visit the moon, we discovered our home planet,
Earth.
Having flown in space four times, I can tell you from
personal experience that seeing Earth from the vantage
point of space truly changes your perspective. Aboard the
space shuttle, I saw the beauty of war-torn parts of our
planet appearing peaceful and serene without borders or
boundaries. I also saw the majestic Amazon rain forest
devastated by deforestation. My dream is that one day any
American will be able to launch into space and see the
magnificence of our home planet as I have been blessed to
do. And when that day comes, it will have been the Apollo
astronauts who blazed the trail.
On behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, I would like to again thank the Apollo
astronauts for their bravery, dedication and historic
accomplishments. What you achieved never will be
forgotten. Centuries from now, future generations will
remember it was you who took humankind's first steps
beyond our planet. We salute you for all you have done for
America – and the world.
Thank you.

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