Amazing Race? Survivor? Please. You call this adventure? You want to see danger? Yesterday, I benefitted from one of the greatest advantages of living in Cape Canaveral, Florida, a port town that lacks the beauty of other Florida locations. Passing massive cruise ships, I walked to our private beach at 8:40AM to watch the final lift off of Space Shuttle Endeavor. Even though I could only see that intense ball of fire for mere moments, the remarkable flame, moving at thousands of miles per hour, always ignites national pride within me that lasts for weeks. The Space Program was my generation’s reality television and today’s television programs cannot even come close to generating the same excitement.
Can you even begin to imagine the bravery required of the astronauts who suit up and climb aboard the space shuttle to sit atop those rocket boosters to be propelled into space?
I’ll never forget the excitement in 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger was scheduled to carry the first American teacher into space. We all turned on our televisions in our classrooms to watch the event with our students. And I’ll never forget the devastation our nation felt when the dream exploded right before our very eyes on television. Talk about reality TV. I’ll always remember the emotion and pride I felt watching then President Regan tear-up as he spoke these sentiments to our nation. He said:
“To the families of the Challenger, I want to say, your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy. They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.” President Reagan added:
“We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.”
And then in 2003, when the Space Shuttle was again lost and the footage was played over and over again on television, President Bush comforted and encouraged the nation with these words: “We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage, and daring, and idealism, we will miss them all the more.”
What we have in common, my senior Florida peers and I and today’s children of our nation is that we all still live in a country that thrives on courage and idealism and bravery. We all carry that spirit within our very fiber—even if you were not born here because your family came here to seek it. This was personified even more at yesterday’s launch by the participation of Representative Gabby Giffords, who is currently struggling to overcome the headshot wounds she suffered in January of 2010. Regardless of her pain and trials, she was there to cheer on her husband and his crew, despite her own suffering. Her news incident represented one of the worst times in our history. Yesterday, she, once again, represented the best.
The news sometimes can get us down and there will always be good and evil. Still, as our history unfolds, I hope our young people may be comforted by the words below that I have consolidated and reiterate from two American presidents from two different generations. They may be even more meaningful now that our amazing Shuttle Program is coming to an end.
Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue in you. You ,too, have a high and noble purpose. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. Be brave, stand strong and lead us beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and your longing to understand. It’s now your turn to take the chances that will greatly expand man's horizons. We cannot even imagine where you will take us, but we take great comfort in knowing that with you and in your hands, we will be safe.