SECRETARY COHEN: On February 20, 1962, I was a senior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. I was co-captain of the varsity basketball team and I was shooting baskets with more speed and less accuracy than perhaps any other player in New England. I was also one of the millions who listened breathlessly as John Glenn, in what was described as "Spam in a can," was shooting into orbit and into the history books for the first time. It must now seem quite ironic to everyone that he almost didn't make the cut at that time because of his, quote "advanced age."
Seventeen years later, I came across John Glenn again, in the United States Senate. I had the privilege of serving with him for 18 years. And as he retires from that esteemed body, he's universally recognized as a leader of uncommon integrity and strength and courage. As a former and future astronaut, he is rightly regarded as an American hero for the ages.
Back in 1962, President Kennedy decided that Lieutenant Colonel Glenn was simply too valuable a role model to return to space that early, especially in the risky days of the space race. John, it is precisely because you are a valuable role model that that presidential decree has been reversed. America salutes you.
True to its name, this is indeed a mission of discovery. The journey of this talented crew is a genuine space odyssey to advance our understanding of the universe, to unlock the mysteries of the sun and the stars and to explore the link between space flight and aging.
It's also a mission of international cooperation. These seven travelers represent the best of America and the best of the world. Among them are mission specialists from Spain and a payload specialists from Japan. Three days from now this international crew is going to glide on high and then look down, and for them, the blue oceans will be reduced to mere ponds. We will look up to them, and for us, it will serve as a reminder of what we can achieve when our hearts and our minds and our hands are joined together.
This is also a mission of inspiration. We can sense why this flight has captured the imagination of so many millions. It may indeed be the 92nd shuttle mission, but it holds all the energy and the enthusiasm that first catapulted America into space decades ago. This mission continues the proud and the courageous tradition of brave men and women of our astronaut corps who pierce the heavens and of those who support each and every one of them on earth. It also reminds us that we must never become so accustomed to the successes of our space program, that we forget the exceptional valor required to explore that final frontier. Every launch, every landing is a true triumph for America.
To this crew and to all of our astronauts and to everyone at NASA, let me say thank you. I think of the words of one poet who said that we are all explorers and we shall never cease from exploring until we arrive at the place where we first began and know it for the first time. John Glenn has continued to be an explorer. He continues to search the universe and to arrive back at the place where he first began, and he will know it now for the second time. This is an orbit in his career, in his life, which perhaps he has always asked for and searched for but never thought would ever happen.
So, we congratulate you, John Glenn, and to the crew, let me say, Godspeed Discovery.