The President. Dr. Fletcher and Admiral Truly, Commander Mike Coats and crew, friends and families: First, let me just take a second to salute Dr. Fletcher, whose name has become almost synonymous with NASA's. And as you know, he will be retiring on April 8th, and I want to thank him for his example, for his leadership, and for his commitment to this space program. He's been an inspiration to everybody not just in this administration and in government but all across the country, and we all owe him a vote of great thanks. [Applause]
And I think Jim, like these gentlemen with me, show that America is a family. And there are moments when we celebrate as a family would -- moments of remembrance and moments of pride. And last Saturday, nearly half a million people welcomed these gentlemen's return to Andrews -- Andrews -- Freudian slip -- [laughter] -- Edwards Air Force Base. And they were there to pay America's respects to your courage and to your enterprise. And today, we, too, salute the story that you've written. You've shown once again that teamwork works. And in a sense, though, your triumph is personal. After all, it's you who braved the elements and performed the tasks which made this mission such a success.
But in a larger sense, the story of Discovery is as American as ``Opening Day,'' timeless as our history. And it says that, to Americans, nothing lies beyond our reach. It speaks to our capacity to dare and to dream the impossible. My friends, this quality has graced every great moment of the American story. And by enriching our lives and our children's lives, it can shape America's dreams of the 21st century.
On the flight of Discovery, you showed anew America's genius in science and technology. By conducting the protein crystal growth experiments, you furthered advancements in medical research. And you used the IMAX camera to study this planet's environmental damage. And I hope that this will lead -- I'm confident it will -- to our knowledge base and that that, in turn, will lead to reducing the threat to our Earth's environment. And you launched a TDRS [tracking and data relay] satellite, which completes the satellite communications network that will allow us more effectively and efficiently to relay data from all of our scientific satellites to Earth. And in short, you showed exactly where we are going and why. And we're exploring the new horizons of this nation's technological future. For as Americans, we are driven always by a restlessness to do better. This desire links the generations and has pushed back the frontiers of research and exploration.
For evidence, I point to two students here today. They show how tomorrow's technological promise lies in the youth of today. John Vellinger was in ninth grade when he started work on an experiment using chicken embryos to study how tissues develop in weightlessness. And last week his experiment flew on shuttle Discovery. And so did the work of Andrew Fras. His experiment studied microgravity's effect on the healing of bones. John and Andrew show how America's future will depend, in space and on Earth, on our most precious resource: our youth.
You know, Adlai Stevenson once spoke of the awful majesty of outer space. This voyage of the shuttle Discovery is over, but its spirit lives, linking the majesty of outer space with the greatness of America. And we're going to forge even stronger links as we reaffirm our commitment to the shuttle program, as our science missions open up new horizons of knowledge, and as space station Freedom symbolizes the promise of man. As we do, we will honor the spirit of Discovery, the spirit which throws open the possibilities of tomorrow and which points us toward the stars.
Gentlemen, your mission is accomplished. Your nation says, well done! Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you, fellas.
Commander Coats. Well, thank you, Mr. President. We deeply appreciate your words of support for our country's space program. We represent thousands of people that work very hard to get the shuttle off the ground each time. And the encouragement you've shown is deeply appreciated.
We also appreciate your words talking about family and the importance of youth. All of us on this crew are very proud of our wives and of our children. And when we're not working in the space program, we're talking about our families. And it's been very encouraging to us to see you and Mrs. Bush and the emphasis that you place on family. We think it's wonderful, and we applaud that, sir.
We presented Mrs. Bush with a gold shuttle charm on a necklace earlier this morning. When it became obvious that we would be flying the first flight of this administration, we had a lot of discussion about what to fly for the President. And it became apparent quickly that we really wanted to fly something for Mrs. Bush as well. She's obviously a very special lady and she's very special to us. And we presented that with her this morning, and we'd like to thank you for a very special First Lady.
When we discussed what to fly for our new President, most of us, of course, being home-ported in Houston, Texas, wanted to fly a Texas flag. It became obvious that, as proud as we are of our new President being from Texas, it probably wasn't appropriate to give you a Texas flag, sir, since you're now President of all these United States. So, we did fly a United States flag, and we'd like to present that to you right now, sir. And with it goes this plaque that says, ``Presented to the President of the United States of America, George Bush. This United States flag was flown in the official flight kit aboard the orbiter Discovery, STS 29, March 13th through 18th, 1989.'' And each of the crew members have signed it. Sir, thank you very much.
The President. That's lovely. Well, thank you for the special -- that actually went? Thank you all. Let me get the wives to come up. Come up here, ladies, so they can get a fitting group picture here. Pick out a husband. [Laughter]
I'd like to ask the Members of Congress that are here to come and say hello to these gentlemen before they head on back to Houston, Texas, which I understand they're fixing to do right after this. So, I see some right here. Come on, you guys. Jim, Jamie, and the Senator -- come on. We'll just say a quick hello to these people, because I don't know if they're going to have the chance -- Congress is out -- to go up to the Hill. Here's Jim Sensenbrenner here. This is the chairman. Be nice to this guy. [Laughter]
Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his closing remarks, he referred to Representatives F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., of Wisconsin and Jamie L. Whitten of Mississippi, and Senator Quentin N. Burdick of North Dakota. The space shuttle ``Discovery'' was launched on March 13 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, and returned to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, on March 18. The members of the crew were: Capt. Michael L. Coats, USN, flight commander; Col. John E. Blaha, USAF, mission pilot; Col. James F. Buchli and Col. Robert C. Springer, USMC, mission specialists; and James P. Bagian, physician and mission specialist.