THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 5, 1998 11:34 A.M. EST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND COLONEL EILEEN COLLINS
AT ANNOUNCEMENT OF
FIRST WOMAN SPACE MISSION COMMANDER
The Roosevelt Room
COL. COLLINS: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, and Administrator Goldin, I just can't tell you how much of an honor it is for me to be here today. And I'm just so excited about this opportunity that I have to command a space shuttle flight. And I want to tell you that since I was a child I've dreamed about space. I've admired pilots, astronauts, and I've admired explorers of all kinds. And it was only a dream of mine that I would someday be one of them and have these kinds of opportunities.
Throughout my life I've studied the universe that we live in and I've just been fascinated by astronomy and all kinds of science. And again, it was only a dream of mine that someday I'd have the opportunity to be part of such an important astronomy mission as this one, the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility. And throughout my life, and in particular, in my career in the U.S. military and with NASA, I've been given important jobs and responsibilities, and I now accept this responsibility with all the determination and the motivation and the diligence that I've had in all the other challenges I've faced.
I also think it's important that I point out that I didn't get here alone. There are so many women throughout this century that have gone before me and have taken to the skies. From the first barnstormers through the women military Air Force service pilots from World War II, the Mercury women from back in the early 1960s that went through all the tough medical testing to become the first astronauts, to the first women who entered the Air Force and Navy military pilot training in the mid 1970s, and most important, the first women astronauts -- and I'd like to point out Sally Ride, who is with us here today -- all these women have been my role models and my inspiration and I couldn't be here today without them. And I'd like to say a special thank you to them. (Applause.)
And additionally, while I've got the podium, I'd like to in particular thank my family and my friends, especially my parents, who have been my best teachers and have been my mentors throughout my life. I'd like to recognize my husband, who is here with me today. Without him, without the unfailing support that he has provided to me, I couldn't be here today. (Applause.)
And now it's time to for us to focus on this mission. On STS-93, our crew will deploy the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, or AXAF. As an amateur astronomer, I'm personally excited about the information this telescope will bring back to us. We'll learn more about the characteristics of individual stars, binary stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and quasars.
Since high-energy X-rays can penetrate through gas and dust, and detect objects that are 100 times fainter than the current
X-ray satellite that we have in orbit right now, AXAF will teach us about the beginning, the evolution, the current structure, and possibly even the fate of the universe that we live in. And our crew is very excited about this mission.
But there's still much work left to be done between now and our December flight. There's training, testing, traveling, there will be flying and more simulators and constant practice. Today we're just getting started. Our crew will focus on this mission 100 percent, and we will make it one of NASA's greatest success.
In conclusion, it's my hope that all children, boys and girls, will see this mission and be inspired to reach for their dreams, too, because dreams do come true.
Thank you. (Applause.) And now it is my honor to introduce to you the President of the United States.
Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'm getting my facts straight. (Laughter.) First of all, let me say that Hillary and I are delighted to have all of you here. The story Hillary told about her fascination with space is not apocryphal, it is real. I heard it a long time before I ever thought she would be telling it before a microphone. And so this is a thrilling day for us.
I want to thank Dan Goldin and all the people at NASA for doing an absolutely superb job. Thank you, Colonel Collins, for your remarks and your example. To the members of Congress who are here -- Congressman Houghton, and Representatives Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Zoe Lofgren -- thank you for your support. I want to thank my Science Advisor, Jack Gibbons, as well as Sally Ride and Jeanne Fallin (phonetic), a pioneer aviator, who are here.
Let me also say that Colonel Collins's husband is also a pilot, and when she introduced him to me, she said, he's not only a pilot, he's a scratch golfer -- he's better than you are. (Laughter.) And after a brief conversation, we actually concluded it was more likely that I would go into space than that I would ever be as good as he is. (Laughter.)
Forty years ago, Life magazine introduced America's first astronauts to the world, noting that the seven Mercury astronauts were picked from -- quote -- "the same general mold." They were all military pilots. They were all in their 30s. They all had crew cuts. (Laughter.) They were all men. And they really were all true American heroes. But heroes come in every size and shape and gender. Today we celebrate the falling away of another barrier in America's quest to conquer the frontiers of space and also to advance the cause of equality.
I'm proud to be here to congratulate Colonel Eileen Collins on becoming the first woman to command a space shuttle mission. She may not fit the exact mold of 40 years ago, but she clearly embodies the essential qualities of all our astronauts, then and now -- the bold, restless, pioneering spirit that has made our nation great. And, as we've already heard, the story of her life is a story of challenges set and challenges met. That is also the story of our space program.
When it comes to exploring space and the unknown, the word "impossible" is not in our vocabulary. We have always recognized the limitless possibilities of seemingly impossible challenges.
A generation ago, President Kennedy said within a decade we would send an American to the Moon and bring him safely back to Earth. By 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had left their footprints on the Moon. We said, in our time, that we would visit the planets of the solar system. And last Fourth of July all Americans, with the help of a robot called Sojourner, got a chance to rove the surface of Mars and meet red rocks named Scooby Doo and Barnacle Bill.
Thirty-six years after John Glenn made his history-making space flight in a capsule the size of a compact car, he's not only going back into space, but we are poised to build an international space station the size of a football field. America has indeed become, as President Kennedy hoped, the world's leading space-faring nation, a distinction we must keep in the 21st century.
Colonel Collins will lead us in this effort, commanding a mission to launch a telescope that will allow us to peer into the deepest reaches of outer space. Our balanced budget for 1999 will support, in fact, 28 new space missions -- missions that will help us decipher more of the mysteries of black holes, of ancient stars, and of our Earth itself. Indeed, later today NASA will be making some exciting new announcements on the results of the Lunar Prospector mission, currently orbiting the moon.
The knowledge we gain from our space missions could help us treat diseases here on Earth, from osteoporosis to ovarian cancer. It can make our farms more productive. It could help us meet the challenge of global climate change. And perhaps help us to uncover the very origins of life itself.
All Americans, especially our young people, have important roles to play in making these plans a reality. They have to begin by taking their studies, especially their studies in math and science, seriously.
Last week, we learned that our leading space-faring nation is not faring very well when it comes to achievement of high school seniors in math and science. This is unacceptable. As we prepare for an information age that will require every student to master not just the basics of reading and math, but algebra, geometry, physics, and computer science, I call on every parent, every school, every teacher to set higher expectations for our children. And I call upon all of our students -- and I know that Hillary and Eileen will today -- to take these challenging courses, so that we can all be prepared for the known and still unknown challenges of the future. And I call on all young girls across America and their parents to take inspiration from Colonel Collins' achievement.
Let me remind you of something she was too modest to say. She has a distinguished degree from Syracuse University. She came up through the ROTC program. She began her high school education in community college. I want every child in this country to know that we have opened the doors of college to all Americans, the community college is virtually free for all children now, that everybody can make this start and nobody needs to put blinders on their aspirations for the future. She is proof. (Applause.)
I want to say, especially to the little girls who will hear Eileen Collins and those who will see her and to their parents, let's remember that at a time when very few girls were taking the hardest math and science courses, Colonel Collins was taking them and mastering them. She did in part because of the unfailing support of her parents who set high expectations and told her she could do anything she set her mind to. She never gave up, and one by one her dreams came true.
I think our country owes a great debt of gratitude to her parents, and I hope that more will follow her direction -- (applause.) And perhaps with her well-justified new fame, notoriety, the greatest mark Colonel Collins will make will not just be written in the stars, but here on Earth -- in the mind of every young girl with a knack for numbers, a gift for science, and a fearless spirit. Let us work to make sure that for every girl and every boy, dreams and ambitions can be realized and even the sky is no longer the limit.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)