UMUC Europe Commencement 2012
Commencement Address, May 5, 2012
Charles F. Bolden Jr.
Thank you. What a great day for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) Class of 2012! I’m honored to join Ambassador Murphy as a member of this awesome class. Congratulations, graduates! All I can say is, “Look out world—here comes the UMUC Europe Class of 2012.” I want to begin by thanking President Javier Miyares, Vice President Allan Berg, Ambassador Philip Murphy, Colonel Bryan DeCoster, members of the board of trustees, distinguished faculty, family, and friends, and honored guests. Thank you all for letting me share this important day with you.
This is a day for the graduates, but before I speak to you directly, I want to take a moment to recognize the invaluable contribution this institution has made to our nation for more than 60 years. Before the ink on the GI Bill was dry, before the Internet, before the modern era of distance learning, at home in America and at 130 military installations around the world, UMUC has been providing the highest quality college education to the men and women who protect us every day. You have not only enriched the lives of these students, you have enriched the life of this nation. On behalf of the Obama Administration and the entire NASA family, I offer you my heartfelt thanks and gratitude. I also want to offer a special thanks to our German hosts here in Heidelberg and to the commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wurttemberg, Colonel Bryan D. DeCoster. Thank you, Colonel, not only for encouraging these fine young patriots to prepare for the future as they serve their country, but also for your own brilliant and courageous service in defense of freedom around the world.
Before I go any further, I want to join all of you in expressing our gratitude to a very special part of the UMUC family—the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children, and friends who have stood by you and helped you fulfill this great achievement. Some of them have traveled great distances to be with you today. Let’s give them all a round of applause.
It’s my honor to be speaking here and to receive this honorary degree as part of the Class of 2012. I cannot tell you how proud I am of all of you for the extraordinary commitment and sacrifice you have made to make it to this day. I know it has not always been easy, especially for those of you like Air Force Sergeant Jarrett Pierce—who has juggled deployments in Germany, Iraq, Italy, and Afghanistan with class work, marriage, and a newborn son. Today he is earning his bachelor’s in psychology. Retired U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Staff Sergeant Jorge Acevedo has attended classes on and off for 20 years in between raising a family and being deployed around the world, including service in Iraq. Jorge said something that epitomizes the determination it takes to earn the degrees with which you will leave here today. He said, and I quote, “You come from the field tired, but keep your head up and keep going.” Jorge is the first in his family to graduate from college and will leave here today with a degree in computer science.
Each of you has your story of struggle and sacrifice leading to this day and, looking out at all of you, I can’t help but think back to the day I was sitting in your seats. When I got my first degree from the Naval Academy it was 1968. I studied electrical science and after graduating, I went to the Basic School and then on to flight training. There was a war on, then, as well. Those were uncertain times, and the farthest thing from my mind was going into space. I was proud to be serving my country during those tumultuous times. After flying combat missions in Vietnam, I tested ground attack aircraft and pursued further studies in systems management. Later, after 14 years with NASA (the first go round) and having the opportunity to fly to space aboard the shuttle four times, I was fortunate to have command postings around the world. So, it is very special for me to be with you today, men and women from all the services, who have made a courageous and exciting choice to pursue your education at the same time you are defending our country.
Over the course of NASA’s history, many men and women in the armed services have come to the agency to put their training and expertise to good use in the space program. In the agency’s 50-plus years, dozens of men and women aviators and aviation support personnel have served their nation’s space program while on loan from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. They mark many firsts among their accomplishments, including Alan Shepard’s first American flight to space, John Glenn’s first orbital flight, Neil Armstrong’s first human footprint on the moon, and John Young’s and Bob Crippen’s first flight of the space shuttle on STS-1. That tradition continues today, with many of our current and future astronauts hailing from the armed services. So one big question that I’d imagine is on at least some of your minds is “What’s next for NASA? Will there be a place for me if I want to incorporate the space program into my military career?” The answer to that is an emphatic yes.
I tell all the students I talk to, from the youngest to the grad students, that if they want to be an astronaut, they need to study some science, technology, engineering, or math discipline, and there will be opportunities at NASA for them. Our mission, after all, encompasses much more than human spaceflight. Science, technological innovation, and aeronautics are key components of our mission as well. President Obama has laid out a blueprint for the future of space exploration that asks us to change the way we do business, from always looking to the next mission or launch to now looking to the next generation.
As the orbiter vehicles of NASA’s storied shuttle fleet are transferred to museums around the country, it should be understood that NASA has entered a new era of exploration—one that I believe to be of great promise. The debate about NASA’s direction is over, and we’re moving strongly into implementing President Obama’s vision and an exciting agenda that has wide bipartisan support. Our goal for human spaceflight is clear: facilitate the development of an American-based capability to launch and transport cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS), while building the next generation rocket and capsule to carry American astronauts deeper into our solar system. We are committed to launching astronauts from American soil, on spacecraft built by American companies, in the next few years. NASA is making substantial and exciting progress toward this goal.
In the coming days, we’re expecting a commercial space company, SpaceX, to launch their Dragon module atop their Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, with a berthing at the ISS a few days later. This first commercial launch to the ISS will mark a major milestone in space history. Later this year, Orbital Sciences will launch their Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus module from Wallops Island, Virginia. In FY 2013, NASA plans for at least three flights delivering research and logistics hardware to the ISS by U.S.-developed cargo delivery systems.
Early this year, NASA opened the recruiting process for a new class of astronauts, receiving a record of almost 6,300 applications. These new astronauts, along with our just-graduated 2009 class, will fly first to the International Space Station, and then on to deep space destinations. We are developing the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle and the space launch system to carry American astronauts to explore multiple destinations, including an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. The first test flight of the Orion will take place two years from now in 2014, and a test flight of the integrated capsule and rocket will happen in 2017.
While we are preparing for future exploration, we continue to have a full crew of six international astronauts living and working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on the International Space Station. We have a football field’s worth of solar arrays powering life support and hundreds of experiments. More than 400 scientific studies were conducted on station last year in an array of disciplines.
As we do this, we will be developing technologies that we will need to send humans to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. As a precursor to sending humans to Mars, in August of this year an amazing rover named Curiosity will land on the surface of the Red Planet to (hopefully) give us clues about the possibility of life there. We’ll be sending robots to places we’ve never been, launching amazing new space observatories to peer beyond the edge of our solar system, and investing more in the fleet of observatories that look at our home planet to understand it as a unified system.
We’ll also be working with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and international partners to develop the next generation of aviation technologies that will transform our whole flight system—the vehicles, the air traffic control, and its overall safety, efficiency, and environmental impact.
I’m confident that the young people of today will be awed and inspired by what we have going on, and will pick up the mantle to become the next generation of explorers. It’s one of our core principles that we do all we can to bring the next generation of scientific and technological leaders into the fold and get them energized about what we’re doing, and what we want to do, and what might be possible if their innovation and imagination were applied to the mix.
So that’s the shorthand description of where NASA is and where we’re headed. It’s very exciting, but we also have a lot of work ahead of us. However, we’re embarking on this path with big dreams and the hope that what we accomplish will be good for the nation and the world—not unlike those of you who receive specialized training here at this institution to embark on a new chapter of your own lives.
I want to conclude by thanking all of you, not only for reaching this important milestone in your lives, but also for your patriotic service to America and for representing the highest ideals of your country. Possibly more than any other generation, you in the Class of 2012 are going to have to be citizens of the world. Our future will depend on deep and lasting international partnerships. This is especially true at NASA, where we have an unprecedented template in how we’ve worked on the International Space Station—where 15 nations, including our friends here in Germany and at the European Space Agency, have united in a common endeavor and created an engineering marvel and a model for diplomacy.
America stands ready to lead the next generation of space exploration, and we welcome the support and participation of our international partners. NASA’s vision is to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown, so that what we do and learn will benefit all human kind.
I have heard echoes of that vision in every part of this world. I am reminded of the words of Nkosi Johnson, a young African child born in a place called Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. “Do all that you can . . . with what you have . . . in the time that you have . . . in the place that you are!” Don’t let the opportunity to make a difference in your world pass you by.
Class of 2012, I can’t tell you with certainty how the social landscape of America or the geopolitical landscape of the world will look in 10 years. But I expect that many of you will help lead us to a better world—not just more prosperous, but filled with more fairness, opportunity, freedom, creativity, and love. It’s been said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” That is our mission and this is your moment.
Congratulations! Good luck and Godspeed!