Remarks at a White House Ceremony Launching the Young Astronaut Program

October 17, 1984

Mike Collins, Jim Beggs, Jack Anderson, the men and women of NASA's astronaut class of 1984, and to you young people and to all of you who have worked so hard to make this ceremony possible, it's a great pleasure to welcome you to the White House. And I've been watching the clouds all day.

We're here today to launch the Young Astronauts Program, as you know, an exciting new project sure to inspire our young people, lift their spirit of adventure, and help prepare them for the challenges and opportunities ahead in space and on the ground.

But first, I want to congratulate the 17 members of NASA's astronaut class of 1984. I'm pleased that you're here today and able to take part in this ceremony. By accepting the challenge of space, you're carrying forward the same courage and spirit of all who have worn the NASA emblem, an emblem recognized the world over as a mark of unmatched professionalism, technology, and achievement.

I'm happy to see David Low here as a member of the class. And, David, we will never forget your father's life-long efforts as NASA Deputy Administrator, manager of the Apollo program, and a leader in planning the shuttle program. And Dr. George Low and the whole NASA team raised our sights and our hopes. And with the enthusiastic support of the American people, we touched the Moon and opportunity and progress.

Last Saturday we watched the perfect touchdown of the 13th shuttle mission. I couldn't help thinking that the Challenger crew was the same size as our original astronaut corps. Back then it was the Mercury 7, then the Gemini 9 -- all former test pilots and all men -- and now, 90 astronauts, women and men, pilots, engineers, and scientists, and soon a teacher and representatives of other countries. And the opportunities will just keep on growing.

A few days ago I saw a cartoon showing two schoolchildren, and one asked the other, ``I wonder why the President wants a teacher to be the first passenger on the shuttle?'' And the answer was, ``Probably to make sure no one has too much fun in outer space.'' [Laughter]

Well, that's not the reason. When the shuttle lifts off, all of America will be reminded of the crucial role teachers and education play in the life of our nation and of the importance of space to our future. I can't think of a better lesson for our children and our country.

Just recently I received a letter from a sixth-grader who lives here in Washington. He said he told his parents that one day he's going to be a pilot or an astronaut. And then he said, ``Please accept me in the Young Astronauts Program if you can. This just might be the beginning of my future.'' Well, Damin, I, too, think this just might be the beginning of your future. Welcome to the program. I'm sure that you and your teachers are going to like it.

NASA, our Office of Private Sector Initiatives, the Department of Education, and the National Space Institute, with help from the National Science Teachers Association and other educational and aerospace groups, have designed an outstanding curriculum. You'll find incentives to pursue science and math and the chance to take part in exciting space-related activities. The end product will be knowledge, our greatest resource for meeting tomorrow's challenges with optimism and success.

And that's the driving force behind the Young Astronauts Program. This private sector program will be directed by the Young Astronauts Council here in Washington, under the leadership of Jack Anderson, Hugh Downs, and Harold Burson. And I want to thank Jack for his help in getting the program started. And I want to thank all of you for your support.

Just as our past achievements in space reassure us of our greatness, the Young Astronauts Program reassures us that we will keep dreaming new dreams and keep moving forward.

Let me say a word now to the young people who are here today. These grounds have seen some very proud moments, welcomed some very important people. But none have been more important than you, because you are America's future. In the years to come, it's going to be up to you to point the way and to keep America moving forward, and I believe you will succeed beyond what we can even imagine.

America's history has not been one of accepting what is, of knowing limits, but of striving and working to build what can be. And there's nothing we can't do if we set our minds to it. There's nothing we can't achieve. And that's the way it's always been in America. From the time that that first covered wagon with the pioneers headed west, to when our astronauts put the first American footprints on the Moon, we've proved that there is no problem so big that it can stop progress.

The sky's not the limit, because the opportunities of space are unlimited. Already, satellites let us communicate with each other at a moment's notice virtually anywhere on the globe. We can anticipate tomorrow's weather and prepare for it. We've used the technology developed for our space program to make our own lives safer and much better, from the computers in your classrooms to the cordless powertools in your Dad's workshop. Thanks to space technology doctors can now use sound waves to monitor babies before they're born, ensuring safer pregnancy and delivery for the mother and better health for the newborn. Firemen now have new life-saving vests as a result of experiments conducted on the shuttle program. And sick people have new hope, with wonderful advances in medicine.

There's no doubt you're growing up in one of the most exciting times in our history, a time filled with extraordinary opportunity. There's a dazzling new world before us, and you have good reason to look forward to it.

The astronauts with us today work very hard to be ready for the future. And for them, the future is now. They'll guide the shuttle to even greater achievements, and they'll help build our space station. And maybe one day, one of you young astronauts can follow in their footsteps. But you must be ready. And that means mastering science, math, and computers -- the wonderful world of high tech.

Someone once said that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. I would add, if you think getting ready for the future is hard work, try not being ready.

Today we're well into a new era guided by technologies that were unknown just a generation ago. Many doors to discovery and progress are now opening. By choosing the Young Astronauts Program, you'll be able to walk through those doors.

Now, there's one final thought: The shuttle program gives us a glimpse of the incredible possibilities that await us. And they're all the result of commitments we've made over the past 25 years, commitments that we've honored.

Along the way, there've been the Doubting Thomases -- there always are -- like the shortsighted who never understood and who would have stopped the shuttle program before it ever had a chance. Well, I'd rather remember the wisdom of Carl Sandburg, a poet, who said: ``Always the path of American destiny has been into the unknown. Always there arose enough of reserves of strength . . . to carry the nation through to a fresh start with ever-renewing vitality.''

We'll rise to the challenge of those words. We won't be held back. We'll keep battling for the future, for new jobs and markets, for discovery, and for knowledge. We have a commitment to keep to our young people, our young astronauts, and we won't let them down.

So, from someone who can remember when they had their first ride in an automobile, thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.