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Remarks By Al Gore
Apollo 11 30th Anniversary Celebration

Tuesday, July 20, 1999

First, let me say that we all miss Director Donald Engen. A hero in World War Two, Donald was no less a hero to this museum.

As one of the Regents of the Smithsonian, I know first-hand the contribution Donald made. He understood our National Air and Space Museum for what it truly is: a shrine to America's relentless spirit of progress, and a monument to those who led us. He gave new energy to this, the world's most visited museum, and put forth a bold vision for its future. He will be missed.

Let us also remember your fallen colleague Pete Conrad, who many of you helped lay to rest yesterday. On the second lunar landing, when he became the third man to walk on the moon, he jumped from the landing module to the surface—and with his trademark sense of humor he declared, "That may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

And so it was for Pete—from his training as an aeronautical engineer, to his service in the Navy, to his time at NASA—where he served with uncommon distinction. Up until his passing, he was working on new commercial ways to open the space frontier. We will remember his humor, his energy, his love of country—and the unparalleled service he gave to us all.

Hundreds of years from now, when historians are chronicling the history of the 20th Century, I believe they will conclude that one of the most significant decisions we made, as a people, was to send a man to the moon—to expand the very limits of our horizon, and blaze new paths of discovery.

It was President John F. Kennedy who taught us all to reach for the moon and the stars. And I want to say, on behalf of everyone here today, that our thoughts and prayers are with the Kennedy family at this difficult time. For John Kennedy Jr. wore that mantle of possibility and discovery—the belief that we can reach a new horizon if we have the courage to try.

The poet Antonio Machado has written: "there is no path; we create the path as we walk." That is true of the people we honor today—who blazed a path farther than any we had known, and made President Kennedy's vision a reality.

In hindsight, yours was an even more audacious journey than it once seemed. Apollo 11's on-board computer had about one-twentieth the storage power of an average floppy disk today—and one thousand times less active memory than the average digital organizer.

With those constraints, you embarked on a mission of half a million miles—a mission to a place that was always within our view but never before within our reach. Even Michael Collins, who is with us today, would later admit, "there are just too many things that can go wrong." And yet, you succeeded.

For America, yours was also a journey of the human heart. 1969 was a time of growing division in America. We were still reeling from the race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and then the assassination of Robert Kennedy which came so quickly on its heels. The war in Vietnam—a war I was about to see with my own eyes—was cleaving America apart.

But we came together, transfixed by the mission you undertook. As Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins sat atop a Saturn V rocket that was taller than the Statue of Liberty, families and communities came together to watch with pride and hope and fear.

We stayed transfixed for the duration of your journey. Later, we would learn just how heroic that mission was. From mission control we heard the words "we're go on that alarm," and only later found out that there had been a computer overload. From you we heard the words "pretty rocky area," and didn't realize that you had to struggle to avoid a field of boulders—and nearly exhausted your fuel in the process. And in the calm language of the test pilot, we heard the words "picking up some dust," but didn't realize that lunar dust had totally obscured your visibility. And then came the graceful words: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

And with your first step into the sea of tranquility, you brought tranquility to us here at home. In that moment, we became a truly United States, united in pride and gratitude.

Your mission taught us a great deal about the moon. But it taught us even more about ourselves: what we could accomplish as a nation if we set our hearts and minds to it.

So perhaps the greatest thanks we can offer is to continue to create the path as we walk.

The 20th century will forever be remembered as the time when we put a man on the moon. Together, we must work to ensure that the 21st Century is the time when we reach even further into our solar system, and beyond it; a time when we reap profound new insights into our own world—from the first light that illuminated the universe, to the forces affecting our global environment in the present day.

I am deeply committed to an aggressive, forward-looking space program—a space program that dares to push the limits of the heavens.

That is why I am so proud that under Dan Goldin's leadership, we have reformed and reinvented NASA—so we can now develop spacecraft faster, launch missions more quickly, and accelerate the pace of discovery while giving the American people more for their money.

In the coming days, we will launch the new x-ray telescope Chandra—which will give astronomers a powerful new tool to see further into the universe and, literally, back into time. And I am proud that it will be launched on the first Space Shuttle ever to be commanded by a woman—Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins.

Later this year, as part of a series of Mars missions, we will make tracks on Mars once again—and move closer to answering the question of whether life existed there.

Next year, astronauts will begin to occupy the International Space Station—a powerful symbol of what nations can do through peaceful cooperation in space.

And we are working to nourish the next generation of space explorers as well. Today, our Administration is announcing the membership of a new National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century that will be chaired by John Glenn. It will look at new ways to recruit, train, and support high-quality math and science teachers—so our children and grandchildren can look skyward with as much understanding as awe.

Through all these steps, we are putting within our reach what was once only within our view. And we have you to thank for that.

You see, the Apollo 11 was just the beginning of the journey—and it is a journey of curiosity and discovery that must be never-ending.

So today, we present these three men with the Samuel Langley Medal, to stand in equal stead with legends of flight like Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Charles Lindbergh.

As much as any, you have opened up new horizons, and made real what many could not dare to imagine.

President Kennedy once reminded us that "this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward—and so will space."

"We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people."

Today, we do more than pay tribute to the first brave sailors of space. We also resolve to keep moving forward—for the knowledge that can be ours, and for the progress that is promised, for all of mankind.

Now I am pleased to present Secretary Heyman, who will read the citations as I present each of you with the Samuel Langley medal.


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