A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

“Lunar Eclipse 2011”

“In the summer of 1958, the Congress wrote and the President signed the National Space Act establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and I remember the time clearly, 50 years ago this week. I was high above the California desert piloting a B-29 carrier aircraft and launching the X-1E, the latest and most advanced of the fabled X-1 research airplane series.

NASA became an operating agency on October 1st, 1958. I found myself that Wednesday morning going to work at my same job, my same office, doing the same work that I’d been doing the previous day. It was a relatively easy transition. We were already riding on rockets and research aircraft. We already knew how to count backwards: “8, 7, 6, 5…”

We had merely to paint over the “C” in NACA and replace it with an “S” on our airplanes, our trucks and vans, as the other principal components of the new agency, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology, and the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Hunstville, Alabama, assumed they were deciding what the minimum amount of painting would be required at their installations and what new responsibilities they would face. 

In any case, I suspect there are some number of people here tonight who remember the birth of NASA and were a part of those early days. So I would like to ask those here tonight who were founding members of NASA, those from NACA, those from JPL, those from Redstone, and those who came from various other places to join NASA in the year 1958 – I’d like those of you who are seated in that category to stand, and those of you who are standing to raise your hands and let me hear from you. Congratulations! You’ve being recognized as old fogies – old fogies that we are and of which we are exceedingly proud.

And here tonight, a half century later, we look back on what has been accomplished. Our knowledge of the universe around us has increased a thousand fold and more. We learned that Homo sapiens was not forever imprisoned by the gravitational field of Earth. Performance, efficiency, reliability and safety of aircraft have improved remarkably. We’ve sent probes throughout the solar system and beyond. We’ve seen deeply into our universe and looked backward nearly to the beginning of time.

We were a competitor in perhaps the greatest peacetime competition of all time: the space race – USA versus USSR. Like a war, it was expensive. Like a war, each side wanted intelligence on what the other side was doing. And I’ll not assert that the space race was a diversion which prevented a war. Nevertheless, it was a diversion. It was intense. It did allow both sides to take the high road with the objectives of science and learning and exploration.

Eventually, it provided a mechanism for engendering cooperation between adversaries and then since, among others. It was an exceptional national investment for each side. I submit that one of the most important roles of government is to inspire and motivate its citizens, and particularly its young citizens – to love, to learn, to strive to participate in and contribute to societal progress. By that measure, NASA will without doubt rank in the top tier of government enterprises.”

The goal is far more than just going faster and higher and further. Our goal – indeed our responsibility – is to develop new options for future generations: options in expanding human knowledge, exploration, human settlements and resource development, outside in the universe around us.

Our highest and most important hope is that the human race will improve its intelligence, its character, and its wisdom, so that we’ll be able to properly evaluate and choose among those options, and the many others we will encounter in the years ahead. And I look forward to watching the progress and those exciting development and hearing the status report when we gather again for NASA’s 100th anniversary.”

Transcript of a speech by Neil Armstrong, made at NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration, hosted by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC