I was reminded of this marvelous speech by my good friend Mark Klugmann, who once upon a time wrote such things for President Reagan.  In it, the President celebrates the return to flight of the Space Shuttles following the Challenger disaster, but also lays out his vision for scramjets, commercial space development, exponential entrepreneurship, exploration and colonization of the galaxy, and the liberation of mankind from ignorance, want and war as these things unfold.

It is a grand vision.  It is our vision.

Rod D. Martin
April 22, 2013


Remarks at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

September 22, 1988

The President. Thank you, Jim, and thank all of you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, to be here with the men and women who are leading America upward in her climb to the stars. It’s important to remember that it is not some impersonal technology that puts our astronauts in space. It’s the dedication and expertise of thousands of men and women of vision, people like you who see no limits, only possibilities.

The truth is, our space program doesn’t invest in machines; it invests in people. And you don’t only launch rockets, you launch dreams. This is the age of technology, but technology is only a tool. Ladies and gentlemen, you are the space program, and America is proud of you.

And soon the world will be watching as five brave Americans lift off from Earth on the space shuttle Discovery. America is going to space again, and we’re going there to stay. Commander Rick Hauck, pilot Dick Covey, and mission specialists Pinky Nelson, Mike Lounge, and Dave Hilmers are space-age pioneers, but their spirit is rooted deep in our heritage. We’re a nation born of pioneers, and we’ll always create our future on the frontier. Americans can live no other way.

Our early settlers knew great risks and made great sacrifices, but with their sacrifice, they moved the frontier forward and built a great nation. Neither can we stand still nor be content, and we’re not afraid. Ill fortune can slow us down, but it can’t stop us. You can delay our long trek to greatness, but you cannot halt it. How better can we pay tribute to those who came before us than by continuing their quest for knowledge, their struggle against limits, by continuing to push toward the far frontier?

And when we launch the space shuttle Discovery, even more than the thrust of Discovery’s great engines, it will be the inspiring courage of our heroes and the hopes and dreams of every American that will lift the shuttle into the heavens. And may the hand of God bring it safely back to Earth.

And when the Discovery takes off, seven precious souls will soar beside it, the seven heroes of the Challenger. With their lives, they moved a nation. They summoned America to reach higher still, as they wrote man’s destiny into the stars. We pledge ourselves to pursue their vision of mankind’s infinite, limitless destiny.

And there’s a place for everyone in this future: Technology does not leave people behind; it carries everyone along. I’ve seen throughout my life that as the technology advances it becomes easier to use, not harder; and the benefits become more universal. Today our satellites make it possible to watch the Olympic games live from Seoul, Korea; to rescue downed fliers and shipwrecked sailors; to predict the path of hurricane Gilbert; and to monitor arms control agreements between the superpowers. And these are just the first moments of a great new era that we’re entering.

I believe the American people today are casting their eyes toward space with greater eagerness and anticipation than ever before. An entire generation is rediscovering their interest in space, the interest they had as children when — in the 1960’s, in grade schools throughout our country — they watched on television, together, the lift-offs of Glenn and Shepard. And as for our young children, the children of the 1980’s, well, I can tell from the letters they send me that they’re ready to go and that the sky is not the limit.

A young author in Poland has written a book of fables in which he describes countries in terms of color.  “The United States,” he says, “is blue, like infinity. The possibilities are endless.” Well, I would agree. And I would agree that for America the deepest blue, infinity, is found in the endless possibilities of space.

The commercial development of space will unleash a new age of entrepreneurship for companies large and small. There’ll be new medicines, new materials, new products, and a communications revolution. The vibrance and creativity of the free market will plumb the full range of possibilities that lie ahead. The dramatic advances in technology mean that what today we can only dream of will be by tomorrow not only feasible but inevitable.

You know, back in Washington, in the Oval Office, I have a sign with a simple four-word message that I keep on my desk. And all of you embody that message. Those simple four words: “It CAN be done.” Can America develop an aerospace plane that will be able to take off from a runway and go into orbit and then land on any corner of the globe in a couple of hours?

Audience members. Yes!

The President. It can be done!

Can we deliver a space shield to defend America, to protect people against nuclear missiles? It can be done!

Audience members. Yes!

The President. Can America have the space station Freedom orbiting the Earth in 10 years’ time?

Audience members. Yes!

The President. Yes, all these things can be done. We are a nation that can achieve great dreams. Somewhere in America, there is alive today a small child who one day may be the first man or woman to ever set foot on the planet Mars or to inhabit a permanent base on the Moon. Let every child dream that he or she will be that person, that he or she may one day plant the Stars and Stripes on a distant planet. Yes, I say: It can be done!

And you and I know that we’re the nation that must do it, because in the next century, leadership on Earth will come to the nation that shows the greatest leadership in space. It is mankind’s manifest destiny to bring our humanity into space; to colonize this galaxy; and as a nation, we have the power to determine whether America will lead or will follow.

I say that America must lead. The Nation that has achieved the greatest human freedom on Earth must be the Nation to create a humane future for mankind in space, and it can be none other. It is only in a universe without limits that we will find a canvas large enough for the vastness of the human imagination.

Mankind’s journey into space, like every great voyage of discovery, will become part of our unending journey of liberation. In the limitless reaches of space, we will find liberation from tyranny, from scarcity, from ignorance, and from war. We’ll find the means to protect this Earth and to nurture every human life and to explore the universe. Let us go forward. This is our mission; this is our destiny.

One cold January day in 1986, I read part of a poem to a nation in grief. I want to leave you today with the rest of that poem because it’s a poem about joy and about all the joyous endeavors. It is “High Flight,” by John G. Magee, Jr., an American pilot who flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. It goes:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence.

Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, Where never lark, or even eagle, flew;

And, while with silent, lifting wings, trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I thank you. God bless you all, and God bless America.


— Note: The President spoke at 3:21 p.m. in Building 9A at the space center. He was introduced by James C. Fletcher, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Prior to his remarks, the President met with the crew of the Discovery and inspected the space shuttle training facility. The crewmembers were Capt. Frederick H. Hauck, USN, mission commander; Col. Richard O. Covey, USAF, mission pilot; and John M. Lounge; Lt. Col. David C. Hilmers, USMC; and George D. Nelson, mission specialists.