Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
9:03 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Thank you for your great leadership at NASA. To all of our honored guests — to our host, Dr. Ellen Stofan, thank you for your great leadership here at the National Air and Space Museum. And especially, it is a particular honor to begin this week remembering the mission of Apollo 11 that started 50 years ago today with Rick Armstrong, with Mary, and with Rick’s oldest son Bryce Armstrong. Would you join me in welcoming the Armstrong family and friends? (Applause.) Thank you for being with us.
It is an honor to be here at the National Air and Space Museum to unveil one of the most important artifacts of what President Kennedy called, correctly, “the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure upon which man[kind] has ever embarked.”
On this day, 50 years ago, Apollo 11 launched from Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center to begin its historic quarter-million-mile journey to the moon. Just three days later, mission commander Neil Armstrong would wear the spacesuit that we will unveil in just a few moments, when he took that one giant leap for mankind.
When President Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would put a man on the moon before the decade was out, it is important to remember, in our time, that he issued a challenge before our country was able to meet it. The truth is, we didn’t have the rockets. We didn’t have launch pads. We didn’t have spacesuits. We not only — we not only didn’t have what we needed, we didn’t know what we needed.
The risks were great. The odds were long. And they were so long that some feared that, if we could make it to the moon, we might not be able to make it back.
It took engineers, manufacturers, and technicians more than 10 years to design the 21 layers of fabric, rubber, metal, and fiberglass that just are encased in this spacesuit that you will see unveiled today. But I expect it is — it is moving for his family and for every American to remember the dangers and the risks at the time that this spacesuit simply may have been the very last thing that Neil Armstrong ever wore. In fact, there was a time — and during that time — that scientists speculated whether, when a lunar module like this one behind me landed on the moon, whether it would be able to lift off again.
The risks were so real that history records that President Nixon had a speech prepared, prior to the landing, in the event that the mission failed.
But, of course, it didn’t fail. After all, with 400,000 men and women behind the mission of NASA, and with the hearts and the prayers of the American people, how could it have failed?
Instead, as the President said to Neil and Buzz shortly after they were saluting an American flag planted on the surface of the moon, in these words he spoke: “For every American, this… [is] the proudest day of our lives.”
He said to them, from the Earth to the moon, “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world…[And] for one priceless moment…the whole history of man, all the people on…Earth are truly one; one in their pride [for] what you have done…one in our prayers that you…return safely to [the] Earth.”
I remember that day. And as I speak to Americans younger than me, it is — I feel even more privileged to have been sitting in the basement of our home as those snowy images came back — the black-and-white images of that incredible moment. It stamped an indelible mark on my life, on my imagination, and, frankly, on the imagination of my generation and every generation since. It was a contribution to the life of this nation and to the history of the world that is almost incalculable.
At that moment, the nation held its breath — a nation that had been deeply divided during the tumultuous 1960s. So as we think of this incredible scientific accomplishment, it’s also — it’s also important for us to see, in this spacesuit and in that moment, also another contribution to the life of the nation. On top of the contributions to science and human understanding, for that brief moment, the man who wore this suit brought together our nation and the world.
Now, true to their creed, astronauts have never being called “heroes.” And the man who wore this suit was especially resistant to such labels. But if Neil Armstrong was not a hero, then there are no heroes.
He once described himself, in his words, quote, as a — he said, “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.” And I would also add, proudly, that he was graduate of Purdue University in the state of Indiana.
Neil Armstrong was reserved. As his family and I were just chatting, he was, in some respects, even shy. That was how he struck me on the few occasions I had the great privilege to speak with him. In fact, I just told Rick that my young daughter Charlotte and I had the privilege of watching one of the last space shuttle launches with Neil Armstrong. And I was struck by his humility and his modesty, and how quickly he deferred whatever he had accomplished to the literally hundreds of thousands of men and women and engineers who made it possible for him to be there and to come home safe.
But among his colleagues, it’s important to remember, on this day when we unveil this historic spacesuit, that Neil Armstrong was called the “Ice Commander.” And generations who enjoy this display, I think, would do well to remember the strength of character and courage of this man.
Just months before Apollo 11, Armstrong lost control of an ungainly training contrivance designed to help astronauts train for the moon landing, and history records that he ejected just three seconds before it crashed into the ground and exploded in a ball of fire. More remarkably than that, we’re told that Armstrong just dusted himself off that day and spent the rest of the day behind his desk.
His son, Rick, just reminded me that he flew this X-15 above us about seven different times. He was an extraordinary test pilot — a man of incredible courage. But his courage was displayed perhaps nowhere more profoundly than in the moments just before the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the surface of the moon.
It was that coolness during the original landing that likely saved the lives of the two astronauts that were aboard the lunar module. 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 again that Neil Armstrong calmly took the control of the lunar module, skimmed across the top of the lunar surface, and manually found a safe spot to touch down.
By the time he set down to what we all know to be Tranquility Base, Armstrong and Aldrin had 17 seconds of fuel left remaining. It was incredible.
So today, we remember the service and the accomplishments of Apollo 11 and of its commander, Neil Armstrong. But we also — we also do well to remember his courage and that steely professionalism that saw him through an entire career of incredible accomplishment and saw that mission to a safe landing and return home.
The debt this nation owes to our Apollo astronauts, including the man who wore the suit that we unveil today, we can never fully repay. But today is an installment, and the American people have expressed their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage. And I’m told, when the Smithsonian Institution launched the Kickstarter campaign to help preserve this invaluable piece of American history, they raised a half a million dollars in five days to do it.
And I also understand, for those looking on, that because of the success of this initiative, the “Reboot the Suit” campaign set an additional goal and now has raised more than three quarters of a million dollars from people all over the country to preserve Alan Shepard’s spacesuit.
The American people’s generosity has made it possible for this national treasure to go on display today for the first time in 13 years, and now to be available in these storied halls for generations to come.
So as we begin today to mark the Golden Anniversary of Apollo 11, we do well to remember what they left behind in its capacity to inspire future generations.
But let me also say, as I told Rick backstage, I expect his dad would be pleased to know that the fact that, in this generation, we are renewing our commitment to American leadership in space, and American leadership in human space exploration is also a tribute as well.
I’m proud to say that, after it lay dormant for a quarter-century, President Trump revived the National Space Council to reinvigorate America’s space activities across a whole-of-government program.
We’ve empowered private partners, unleashed America’s space industry as never before. And under President Trump’s leadership, it is now the policy of the United States of America to return to the moon within the next five years, and, from there, onto Mars.
I have a feeling that the man who wore the suit that we will unveil today would be glad to know that the first woman and the next man on the moon will also be an American.
Apollo 11 is the only event of the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century. And that’s what makes a day like today so important. A thousand years from now, July 20, 1969, will likely be a date that will live on in the minds and imaginations of men and women here on Earth, across our solar system, and beyond.
And so it’s important that we do what we do today: that the generosity of Americans, the professionalism of the Smithsonian and the National Air and Space Museum, and the generosity of the Armstrong family and their support makes it possible for this spacesuit to inspire literally generations of Americans.
And perhaps it also will inspire them to remember — remember those men who took that “most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure” in their time.
It’s remarkable to think, as we talk about that steely-eyed nerve of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, that maybe we do well this week also to remember a photograph, Rick, of your dad.
Shortly after he and Buzz Aldrin finished their historic moon walk, there is that picture of Neil Armstrong dressed in that very spacesuit, covered with moon dust, sporting a three-day beard, with a broad smile on his face, exuding the greatest and purest satisfaction. The Ice Commander shed his demeanor for a minute and expressed from his heart what people all over the world were feeling in that moment.
So thank you again to Dr. Ellen Stofan and the great stewards here at the National Air and Space Museum. Thank you for preserving this great national treasure. May it inspire future heroes who walk these hallways in their youth.
May God bless the memory and legacy of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you all. (Applause.)