Speech on the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
delivered 20 July 2019, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey, Administrator Bridenstine, Director Cabana, General Selva, distinguished members of Congress, Marillyn Hewson, the dedicated men and women of NASA, and especially Rick Armstrong and the members of the Neil Armstrong family, and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin: It is my great honor to be here with all of you today.
It’s great to be back here at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, as Vice President and as Chairman of the National Space Council, with my wonderful wife Karen, to celebrate -- to celebrate with all of you the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing a half a century ago that will be remembered forever.
And I’ve been looking forward to this day, but allow me to bring greetings from another great space enthusiast and a great champion of American leadership in space. I begin today by bringing greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.
Today, our nation pays tribute to the three brave astronauts who sat atop a 360-foot rocket that lifted off from Pad 39A 50 years ago this week -- two of whom walked on the moon 50 years ago today.
We also gather to pay tribute to the nearly 400,000 Americans -- engineers, technicians, designers -- whose sacrifices and dedication made it possible for Apollo 11 to complete what another president called “the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure upon which mankind has ever embarked.” Let’s hear it for all those who supported these three brave astronauts 50 years ago.
When President Kennedy challenged the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth before the decade was out, it’s important to remember that our country was not yet ready to meet that challenge.
We didn’t have the rockets or the launch pads, or the spacesuits or the lander. We hadn’t even invented many of the materials or tools that we would need. Not only did we not have what we needed, we didn’t even know what we needed.
But President Kennedy summarized that epic endeavor in one simple sentence: “We choose to go to the moon.”
And make no mistake about it: The moon was a choice. An American choice. And like every time the American people make up their mind, once that decision was made, American ingenuity, grit, and determination -- the achievement was inevitable.
The only challenges that remained were challenges of engineering and science. The moon didn’t come easily, and it didn’t come without costs. And it did not come without grave danger or without sacrifice.
To this day, Americans grieve the loss of three brave astronauts of Apollo 1 who were lost in a fire on the launchpad in January of 1967. And we think of them and their families even today.
The risks for Apollo were so great, the odds were so long, that many feared that even if our astronauts made it to the moon, they might not make it back.
In fact, history records that President Nixon prepared a speech in the event of a tragedy, where he would explain to the nation that the mission had failed.
But, of course, the mission didn’t fail. After all -- with 400,000 men and women behind the mission at NASA, and with the hearts and prayers of the American people -- how could it fail?
For at the controls of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, known as Eagle, stood two great Americans: Mission Commander Neil Armstrong --
-- and a man who is with us today, Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin.
And circling overhead in lunar orbit was Command Module pilot Michael Collins.
Just picture it: Fifty years ago today, at almost exactly this hour, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were about halfway into their powered descent on the final leg of their landing on the moon. There they were, standing beside one another in a capsule not much bigger than a couple of telephone booths, just minutes from touchdown.
They thought they were ready for every contingency. After all, as Buzz told me just a few days ago, they had spent two years intensively training for this moment, and they’d run almost 600 simulated landings all designed to be more difficult than the real thing.
Eagle had just finished its rollover to position itself for final approach, when all of the sudden, Neil Armstrong called out to Houston that Eagle had a “1202 Alarm.” The problem was nobody on board or in Houston had any idea what a “1202 Alarm” was.
Eagle’s flight computer was overloading. Not only could they not see the moon out their windows; they couldn’t know for certain how far they were from the surface. Not a good way to fly.
And yet, how calm they were. Working with the team back here on Earth, they quickly resolved the problem without betraying the slightest anxiety. People all over the world were watching, with no idea that anything had gone wrong. That, my friends, is what they used to call “The Right Stuff.”
You know, there’s a reason Neil Armstrong, as well, was called the “Ice Commander” in his day. When the original landing area turned out to be so full of large boulders that landing there would have doomed the mission and the crew, history records that Neil Armstrong calmly took control of the Lunar Module, skimmed along the top of the surface of the moon in search for a safe place to touch down. And by the time he found a safe spot, known to all of us as "Tranquility Base," Armstrong and Aldrin had only 17 seconds of fuel remaining.
Like every one of my generation, I remember that day. Six hundred million people around the world were watching their TVs and listening to their radios, waiting with admiration, anxiety, and wonder. And I was one of them -- a little boy sitting in front of our black-and-white television in the basement of our home in Indiana.
When those first snowy images of Neil Armstrong stepping off the bottom rung of the ladder beamed down to Earth at 10:56 p.m. on Sunday, July 20, 1969, they made an indelible mark -- not just on my imagination, but on the imagination of my generation and every generation to come.
It was a moment so rich in meaning that, upon hearing Neil Armstrong’s first call from Tranquility Base, even the era’s greatest newsman, Walter Cronkite, could only shake his head and utter two words: “Oh, boy.”
All at once, the nation held its breath -- as through the crackling broadcast we listened to, we heard Neil Armstrong use those immortal words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In that moment, the men of Apollo 11 did more than help expand our understanding of Creation, and they did more than win the Space Race. They brought together our nation. And for one brief moment, all the people of the world were truly one.
Now, true to their creed, astronauts have never liked the idea of being called heroes. Yet for all they did -- and for all the risks they took -- if Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins are not heroes, then there are no heroes.
We honor these men today, and America will always honor our Apollo astronauts. They were heroes all. We honor the men of Apollo 11 by remembering their epic voyage and telling their story. But we also honor them by continuing the work they so nobly and courageously advanced in American space exploration.
Apollo 11 was followed by five more successful moon missions culminating in the final historic journey of Apollo 17 -- America’s last trip to the moon. As we honor our Apollo 11 astronauts, we are also honored today to be joined by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmidt. Thank you for your courageous service.
As Harrison and I have discussed about his mission, while the last words spoken on the moon might not be as well-known as the first words, his fellow astronaut Gene Cernan said more perhaps than anyone could’ve known at the time. It was a challenge to our time.
As he stepped off the moon on December 17, 1972, Gene -- he said these words, and I quote, “As I take man’s last steps on the moon for some time to come, history will record…that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.” And then he ended by saying, “We leave the moon as we came and, God willing…we shall soon return with peace and hope for all mankind.” Those were words of challenge in 1972.
And in our time, as President Trump said, this generation of Americans knows that it is “America’s destiny to be...the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.”
And standing before you today, I am proud to report, at the direction of the President of the United States of America, America will return to the moon within the next five years, and the next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts. We’re going back.
After more than 45 years, where one Administration after another chose to limit America’s space program to low Earth orbit, President Donald Trump has changed all that.
Early in this Administration, the President revived the National Space Council within the White House to coordinate all space-related activities across the government, including matters related to national security. And we’ve been hard at work.
The Space Council has helped bring together skilled leaders in business and industry to revive and renew America’s commitment to human space exploration. And I’m pleased that many members of our Users’ Advisory Group for the Space Council are with us today for this historic occasion. Join me in welcoming these dedicated and distinguished Americans.
The President also signed Space Policy Directive 1, “challenging NASA to lead the return of Americans to the moon, send the first Americans to Mars, and enable humans to expand and deepen our reach across the solar system.” It is our mission.
And as I speak to you today, I’m proud to report we’re investing in new rockets, new spaceships. We’re working with private companies around this country to develop the new technologies of the future by unleashing the burgeoning private space industry that dots the landscape of this historic center and this nation.
And within the next year, we will once again send American astronauts into space on American rockets, from American soil.
Already, we’ve given our human exploration missions a newfound sense of urgency not seen in more than a generation.
And, last year, NASA and American innovators began an accelerated design process for both the lunar orbital gateway and the lunar surface base -- all of which we will need to support Americans on the moon and to train and prepare to send Americans to Mars.
And while we’ve made great strides in advancing the President’s bold vision for space -- unlike in years past, we will have the budgets to match it. And that’s why I’m especially grateful today to be joined by some of the greatest champions of American leadership in space in the Congress of the United States: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Congressman Brian Babin, Congressman Bill Posey, and other distinguished members of Congress. Would you please rise and allow us to express our appreciation for your strong support of renewed American leadership?
With strong bipartisan support, this President has already signed into law the largest NASA budget ever. And on this historic occasion, I’m told that we’ve also achieved a critical milestone in our effort to go to the moon and beyond.
Today, thanks to the hard work of the men of NASA -- men and women of NASA and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight.
In the coming years, American astronauts will return to the moon aboard the Orion, and they’ll return with new ambitions. We will spend weeks and months, not days and hours, on the lunar surface. This time we’re going to the moon to stay -- and to explore and develop new technologies. We will extract water from ice in the permanently shadowed craters of the South Pole. We will fly on a new generation of spacecraft that will enable us to reach Mars, not in years but in months.
Americans are leading in space once again. And today we’re reminded -- we’re reminded how American leadership 50 years ago, and the accomplishment of Apollo 11, inspired our nation. As the President said, it “ignited our sense of adventure” and “steeled our belief that no dream is impossible, no matter how lofty or challenging.”
And as Buzz Aldrin said today, in his words, “Looking back, landing on the moon wasn’t just our job, it was a historic opportunity to prove to the world America’s can-do spirit.”
But as we lead in human space exploration again, we’ll carry not only American ingenuity and pride, but most importantly, we’ll carry America’s ideals into the vast expanse of space -- ideals of freedom and liberty.
Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century.
A thousand years from now, July 20, 1969 will likely be a date that will live in the minds and imaginations of men and women, as long as there are men and women to remember -- across this world, across this solar system, and beyond.
So, today, we remember the heroes of Apollo 11 and all the heroes that supported them in their mission -- some 400,000 Americans.
But today, we also reaffirm our commitment to “unlock the mysteries of space” and to lead. And as we continue on this American journey, we go with the same resolve and determination of those who have gone before.
And we go with faith.
Faith in the courage of this new generation of astronauts -- men and women of the character and caliber of those who have gone before. They’re remarkable pioneers who will carry American leadership into space.
Faith in the ingenuity of the men and women of NASA and all of those across the American space enterprise, whose creativity and tireless efforts in the days ahead will match that of their forebears who created and invented new ways to explore and expanded human understanding with American leadership.
And finally, I believe, as we go forward -- and as millions of Americans believe in their hearts, and have throughout the generations -- that we’ll go forward with faith that as those pioneers put on the spacesuits and climb aboard the rockets, that we’ll believe that even if they rise on the wings of the dawn, even if they go up to heavens, that even there His hand will guide them, and His right hand will hold them fast. And that’ll be our prayer.
Today, we mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. We celebrate the heroic astronauts who accomplished that extraordinary feat in human history -- and all those who supported them.
And today, we resolve, for the sake of all they accomplished, that America will lead in space once again. And this nation will once again astonish the world with the heights we reach and the wonders we achieve.
So may God bless the crew of Apollo 11 and all who supported them on their historic journey. May God bless this new generation of pioneers and all who will support them. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)
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