Thank so much, and then you ladies and gentlemen.
This is, for me, a very special occasion. I get a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to try to express from my generation to the one that preceeded me
a sense of thanks and gratitude for what you did. I represent not only a
generation of astronauts but a generation of Americans who watched you go to
the moon, persevere in the face of obstacles, problems, challenges, and
disasters and yet you succeeded still. You demonstrated with your actions, in
addition to with your words, what it really meant to be an American. And I
want to thank whoever thought to put this American flag up behind me, because
this is what it's about. [applause]
As a child growing up as you were going to the moon, I learned when my Dad went
out in the back yard and he put four stakes up in the back yard with a piece of
string around to make a square, and he went to the garage and got a shovel and
he started digging. And this was about 1963, as best as I can remember.
Think back to what was happening in 1962 and 1963. America was battling
for its survival. As far as we could tell, we were losing and communism
was winning. We were fighting for our very survival. Now, I asked my Dad,
"What is this hole that you're digging in the back yard?" And he said, "Son
that's going to be where you and your mother and your son get down when" --
notice I say "when" and not "if" -- "the Russians drop the atomic bomb."
That was the sense that we had at that time. To a seven- or eight-year-old, it
was really grabbed me and really took me out of that Walt Disney world of
Daniel Boone and coonskin caps and made me realize that there was something
very special and very important going on. To each and everyone one of you who
contributed to the success of winning Space Race and showing the world that
being an American -- and the American ideals of democracy, of freedom, of
liberty -- was not only the best way to live your life as an individual,
but it was also that we had a system that could take on these tough
technological problems, and we could win. And we would win again in the
future. And you demonstrated to my generation what it was all about.
I want to thank you for preserving America and our ideals. [applause]
The second part of my thank you is personal, but it's also on behalf of my
generation to yours. And it's a thought that that night, in July of 1969,
there must have been a million of us who were nine, ten, eleven, twelve -- we
were right at that point in our lives when we were starting to think about our
future, think about the possibilities. And we literally sat on the edge of our
seats as we watched Americans walk on the moon -- those fuzzy images going
across the TV screen, Walter Cronkite explaining to us what was happening --
and even at that tender age, we could understand that this was a historic,
monumental event. And then millions of us walked outside that night and we
looked up at the moon and we were able to make this connection, for the first
time in our lives, that something special happening on the TV was happening
right there on that moon, right now. And it kind of made a once-in-a-lifetime,
dramatic impact and it made us think about -- you know this thing about "if
you can dream it, you can do it" -- it's not just a catch-phrase; it's real,
and these people are demonstrating to me with their actions. What can I do
with my life? Where might I be able to go? What kind of life of excitement
and adventure when I try to grab and reach onto -- what kind of fulfillment,
what kind of achievement, or what kind of contribution might I be able to make?
That night, for millions of American children such as myself, that's when we
made the leap -- the first step, if you will -- into an adulthood, a life of
excitement and adventure that a lot of us are still living to this day. And we
have you to thank for it. Thank you very much. [applause]
And now I'm going to introduce one of that newer generation. As the Director
of the Exploration Launch Projects Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, our
next speaker manages one of NASA's key exploration initiatives: Designing and
developing the new launch vehicle systems that will enable missions to the
moon, to Mars, and beyond.
He's been likened to Dr. Wernher von Braun because he so understands the
importance of engaging the public in the exploration initiatives.
Steve Cook received his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and
mechanics from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and joined NASA as a
lead systems engineer in the Preliminary Design Office. Serving in numerous
leadership positions within NASA, he now is responsible for the overall
management and direction of the launch vehicle projects at Marshall, including
design, development, vehicle integration, and testing.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to welcome the to podium the man
who is leading us back to the moon, Steve Cook.