[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 5, 1998]
[Pages 331-332]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 331]]

Remarks Announcing the Selection of Lieutenant Colonel Eileen M. 
Collins, USAF, as the First Woman Space 
Mission Commander
March 5, 1998

    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 Adviser, Jack Gibbons, as 
well as Sally Ride and Jean Phelan, a pioneer aviator, who are here.
    Let me also say that Colonel Collins' 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 thirties. They all had crewcuts. [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 had 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 
spacefaring 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 
    The knowledge we gain from our space missions could help us treat 
diseases here on Earth, from osteoporosis to ovarian cancer. It could 
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

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their studies, especially their studies in math and science, seriously.
    Last week we learned that our leading spacefaring 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, that 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.
    I want to say, especially to the little girls who will hear Eileen 
Collins and these 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. 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, the 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.

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the 
White House. In his remarks, he referred to Colonel Collins' husband, J. 
Patrick Youngs, and her parents, James and Rose Collins; former 
astronaut Sally K. Ride; and aviation pioneer Jean Ross Howard-Phelan.