Contact Us


Speeches - By Date


EPA Region 6 Shuttle Recognition Ceremony, Dallas, Texas

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
EPA Region 6 Shuttle Recognition Ceremony
Dallas, Texas

May 27, 2003

Thank you, Richard (Greene), for that introduction. I am pleased to be here. I am honored that William Readdy of NASA and Michael Brown of the Department of Homeland Security are also with us today.

On February 1st, our Nation suffered a terrible tragedy. The loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia reminded us all once again that the marvels of space flight are not routine, they are dangerous. It also reminded us that those who venture into space are truly pioneers B men and women who are willing to risk all to follow their dream B indeed, the dream of all humanity B to explore, to learn, and to expand our knowledge about the world, and the universe, in which we live.

The EPA was given the solemn honor of assisting in recovering debris from the shuttle. You are the men and women who fulfilled that mission. You answered the call, leaving your homes and families to do work that was neither glamorous nor easy, but that was so important. Important to the families of those who were lost, important to the NASA family, and important to the future of human space travel. This was a mission we wish had never been needed, but one to which we were proud to contribute.

In many ways, the work NASA does and the work we do at the EPA share a common thread. We both seek to better understand the Earth so we can better care for it. I will never forget the awe and wonder I felt back in December 1968 when I first saw those pictures of our planet, hanging in space, beamed back from Apollo 8 on its journey to the moon. As the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote, for the first time we saw Athe earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats@ which helped us "see ourselves as riders on the earth together. @

It is more than just a coincidence that the birth of the modern environmental movement came on the heels of our first manned voyages into space. The images from Gemini and Apollo spacecraft changed the way we looked at our planet. The environmental ethos which has taken hold owes much to the pioneering work of NASA, who truly did let us see just how connected we are to each other and to the Earth, our A fragile island home.@

That is why it is fitting that the EPA was called upon to assist NASA in the recovery of the Space Shuttle Columbia . Of course, on a practical level, we were called upon because of our experience and expertise in detecting and removing contaminated materials. From the air and on the ground, you helped identify where hazardous material might be, where it might pose a risk to recovery workers or the public, and you protected them from that risk.

But on another level, not quite as obvious but every bit as real, we were called on because we understand, as NASA does, the importance of science and discovery and the need to see it continue. By walking through the tangled overgrowth and the muddy fields of East Texas and Louisiana, you helped forge the path that will lead us back to space. Because in helping NASA recover the debris from the shuttle, we have helped in the search to find the cause of the accident.

Once the cause is found, and the problem corrected, the shuttle will fly again. And when it does, you will know that you helped relaunch humankind's eternal quest for the heavens and for the knowledge they contain.

I was interested to learn that the Columbia was named for an 18th century sloop B a single masted sailing vessel B that was the first American ship to circumnavigate the world. Tragically, on February 1st, the Space Shuttle Columbia fell just short of completing the final circumnavigation of its last voyage of discovery.

But the spirit that inspired the journeys of both Columbias B and that inspires the work of this Agency B is very much alive and well. Its spirit is embodied in the work for which you are being honored today. And its spirit will continue to guide our efforts to protect our environment and the public health in the years ahead.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for a job well done.