This year marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s speech to Rice University in which he said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
In that speech he spoke of the country’s historical commitment to science and technology to shape our nation. Kennedy said, “This country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.” Our history has always been one of exploration, research and risk taking. The individuals who shaped our nation were the people who looked forward, who faced the unknown and unanswered and sought to make America a more perfect union.
American exploration pushed us to understand our nation, our world and our universe. There are the names that come readily to mind like Lewis and Clark, John Fremont, Kit Carson, George Washington Carver, the Wright Brothers, Jonas Salk, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. And there are the largely unsung heroes—Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, Sacajawea, John Wesley Powell, Matthew Henson, Harriet Chalmers Adams, William Jones, Hedy Lamarr and Mary Golda Ross. Today, people bemoan the fact that America is losing its lead in science, engineering and research. We see Exploration Day as an opportunity to teach and inspire young people to dig deeper, reach farther, to seek answers to the challenges that face humankind in the 21st Century. We want to celebrate curiosity, research and risk taking in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.If we are to remain the leader in science and technology, we have to stop denigrating learning, research, and experimentation. Exploration Day would be a day to celebrate the tapestry of progress and achievement that made America great; to recognize the vast body of knowledge we have because of Americans who accepted a challenge and moved us forward. In the words of JFK, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
Essentially, the vast majority of Americans, regardless of background or political orientation, should celebrate federal holidays. Columbus Day no longer fits the litmus test of credibility and relevance for many people. Re-dedicating Columbus Day as Exploration Day will allow those who wish to commemorate his accomplishments to continue doing so. But for those who find Columbus’s role in history disquieting, it will enable them to celebrate the day in a very different way. Exploration Day covers the depth and breath of America’s rich history of exploration, research and discovery. Thus, Exploration Day will be something that unites rather than divides.
Exploration is a broad topic, but the exploratory spirit is not. It’s a human characteristic that drives adventure, and progress while satisfying the insatiable need to know what’s over the next horizon. Exploration Day is a day to celebrate where we’ve been, but more importantly, where we could go if we all put our minds and efforts together for a common goal. It’s both a celebration of our past as well as our future.
“Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.” John F. Kennedy