Mars Millennium Project

Mars Millennium Project Kick-Off
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton

National Air & Space Museum
January 14, 1999


Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here with all of you for the kickoff of this Mars Millennium Project. Many people have been acknowledged, and I will mention a number of you in my remarks. But I am pleased that we are joined by two members of Congress as well—Representative Tim Romer and Representative John Larson. Because this truly is an effort to bring together the American community on behalf of the Millennium theme: “Honor the past and imagine the future.” And there's nothing that entices children and adults as much as the idea of space travel and colonization with respect to imagining the future.

I want to recognize a group of students who were with Donna Shirley and me just a little while ago from the Anne Beers Elementary School here in Washington. I can't see anybody out there, but I know they're out there. I wish all of you could have been with us, because they asked wonderful questions that Donna answered absolutely beautifully and extremely clearly. And they also gave me a book of some of the preliminary work they have done about what kind of community they would want to build on Mars and the kinds of requirements that would have to drive that effort. Starting next school year, students from all over the country will be able to take off on their own journeys of imagination to Mars. They will imagine that it is the year 2030 and that they are one of the first 100 human beings arriving on Mars. Their challenge will be to look at their own communities and use the lessons learned there to create on Mars the kind of place they'd like to live in.

Now perhaps they'll imagine and design a place where all of the dreams we have here in our country will actually be part of the fabric of their communities. That, for example, they'll have 100 percent voter participation. They might imagine voting is a birthright so literally, it starts from birth. Or a place where you can breathe the air and drink the water, even though they're going to be up against some very difficult conditions to make that possible. Certainly they can dream that it will be a place where all children get a good education and where everyone in the community can enjoy and participate in the creative process—music and painting and art of all kinds.

Now this project that will enable all of these young people around our country to engage in this feat of imagination would not have been even a glimmer of a dream without the support of the people in this auditorium. I want to start by thanking Donna Shirley. I want to thank her for her introduction. But more than that I want to thank her for representing that incredible American spirit that doesn't know barriers, that overcomes them when they are confronted; and for helping our nation—and, indeed, the entire world—unlock the mysteries behind Mars. And she's done it by shattering the glass ceiling every step of the way. I am delighted that she has agreed to serve as the spokesperson for this project. And I think any of you who had a chance to talk with her or saw her with the young people earlier knows that she is the perfect choice because of her connection with children.

I am also delighted to announce that John Glenn will be the honorary chair of the Mars Millennium Project. This is a wonderful marriage of a scientist and researcher on the ground who made it possible for us to make these feats of imagination reality in the last 40 years, and a man who actually was there doing it on our behalf.

I also want to thank the Secretary and everyone associated with the Smithsonian, particularly here at the Air and Space Museum. Every time I walk into one of these extraordinary museums, I am reminded of the great gift that the Smithsonian Institution is to our country. And Mike, I want to thank you again for your leadership.

I am also pleased that major agencies have joined forces within the federal government to create this innovative project. I want to thank my friend and a great advocate for education, Secretary Riley, who's done so much to make sure that children make the grade, but that we also understand that education is a lifelong process and that it includes every aspect of human endeavor—particularly the arts and humanities.

I want to thank Chairman Ivey, the hands-down country music expert in the Administration. He not only carries a portfolio of the arts, but also a guitar pick in his front pocket. And he has early on grasped the opportunity to make the arts come alive in the lives of Americans—particularly young Americans.

I want to thank Administrator Goldin—a visionary who, from Pathfinder to Hubble, has led NASA during one of its most exciting chapters in recent history; all the while doing what he promised he would do: making it faster, better, cheaper. In fact, Donna Shirley has been heard to remark that Sojourner looks so small when they see it in person. And when we saw a three-fourths model a few minutes ago in the exhibition and they asked her, “Is that the real size?” she joked, “Yes, it's the real size. It's all we can afford.”

Well, certainly, the excitement that has been brought to NASA under Administrator Goldin, with extraordinary team leaders like Donna Shirley, has made it clearer and clearer to Americans that this is something we must support if we are going to continue to keep faith with the boundary-breaking experience that marks the American experiment.

I also want to thank Ted Mitchell and the entire J. Paul Getty Trust for all that you did to envision this project and to get it off the ground, and for what you do every day to protect the cultural heritage of our entire nation and, indeed, of our world. Now I was thinking about this project—and you've already heard Bill Ivey quote from Ray Bradbury, but I thought we'd go back if we could to the beginning of this century and we could listen to Perciville Lowell, who at that time was considered, I guess, the Carl Sagan of the time. And he talked about a civilization on Mars trying to save itself by building canals that brought water from the polar caps to the equator. We now know—and Donna Shirley talked about it—that there are polar caps, so maybe that's not such a far-fetched image after all. We could have picked up H.G. Wells' new book at that time, the turn of the century, “The War of the Worlds”, in which Martians, facing extinction, invade Earth.

Now a hundred years later we're just as fascinated by Mars. And I will never forget how we were all riveted on that memorable fourth of July in 1997 by the Pathfinder and Sojourner. And as we watched Sojourner move among the red rocks with names like Scooby Doo and Barnacle Bill, I think many of us felt like we were actually there, that it was not just a virtual experience but we could shut our eyes and think and dream about every idea we'd ever had about what Mars would be like.

On the first day that we got back data, I understand there were 47 million hits on the NASA/Mars exploration website—47 million hits in a single day. In the first three months that the Rover was working up there, more than a half a billion hits were logged. It was described as the defining moment for the Internet, spurned on no doubt by the fact that we have hope now, backed by science as well as science fiction, that there really are things that we can discover—maybe even including life on Mars.

With the Mars Millennium Project we wanted to tap into young people's excitement about Mars and space exploration and harness that excitement to help them think creatively about the world in which they live and the world they will be making—the world they will inherit. It is the central youth initiative of the White House Millennium Council that the President and I started two years ago. I want to thank Ellen Lovell, who is the director of that Council, for her strong support and imagination that also contributed to this project.

People often ask my husband or me what motivated us to create a national millennium program. And we knew that, certainly, whether we did anything or not, the millennium would come and go, people would have extraordinary parties, there would be products produced for the marketplace that would be millennium this or millennium that. But we saw this opportunity as much more than just the marking of a moment, more even than a celebration. But instead we saw it as an opportunity to focus on what has defined us as a nation and what continues to do so.

Donna read from my book about some of the characteristics that have, by and large, marked America over its time. We are one nation. We share the same experiences, hopes and values as Americans despite whatever our pluralistic backgrounds might be, and we each will have gifts that we can give to the future. So by honoring the past and imagining the future, we are helping ourselves think about what the significance of this passage of time could mean, how we could come to grips with the change that has occurred all around us.

You know, five years ago there wasn't an Internet. As Dan Goldin said, there weren't computers in the classrooms he and I attended when we were growing up. In the space of our lives, we have seen this extraordinary, breathtaking pace of change, and for our children we know it will be even faster. How will we as human beings cope with this change? How will we keep what is best and honored from our past, and how will we imagine and create a future that will be able to withstand this onslaught of change?

As young people decide what to bring to Mars from their own communities, maybe they will take a copy of our Constitution, or a favorite song or whatever they choose that will in some way reflect what they value. And they'll have an opportunity then to think about what those choices represent. They'll have to worry about the kind of government that will govern life on Mars, they'll have to worry about education, they'll have to worry about their environment. They will be facing the same worries that the first people who came to this land, whether it was across the land bridge, across the Barren Strait—10, 12, 20 thousand years ago—or whether it was coming in ships many, many centuries later. We will all be reliving through these young people's imaginations what it means to create a new world.

When you look at popular culture today, positive images of the future are often hard to come by. You look at the movies that have tried to predict what will happen in the future, and we often see a lot of death and destruction and environmental degradation. It's not just that people might live under domes on Mars, but they would have to live under domes here on this planet because of what we will have done to our environment. Or whether we will have to join together as human beings to stave off attacks from aliens in outer space, and then we'll have to put aside our really petty differences—differences in our own country and differences among people around the world—to stand up for our common humanity.

The logo of the Mars Project challenges us to picture a different kind of future. Not the one that is portrayed in the movies of our popular culture or in our worst nightmares, but instead one that really is filled with hope and possibility. By enlisting young people, we're going to not only ask them to imagine a future on Mars, but to do some hard thinking about what is valuable here, right where they live—how they wish to treat one another and what kinds of efforts they are willing to make for their own futures.

Thanks to the support of M&M Mars, starting this month we will have a poster that will be sent to every school in America. And this poster will introduce the project to the education community and ask teachers and principles and students and everyone else to think about getting involved. Now starting in March, teachers—as they start to plan next year's curriculum—will be able to get information, will be able to get guides that will help them bring this project to their students.

I want to thank the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development for helping to develop the guides that will be sent out. As of today students and teachers who want to participate can simply click on the web. When they type in, they'll be able to sign up for the project; they'll find one-stop shopping for information about the arts, math, science, everything they'll need to plan their trip and their colony on Mars. Periodically students will be able to chat online with artists and astronauts, scientists and scholars, to learn firsthand from their insights. And when it is all over there will be a virtual gallery featuring pictures of finished projects from all over the country.

I want to thank Copernicus Interactive and America Online for making all this possible. Like the communities young people will create and like the teamwork that Donna Shirley had to head up to explore Mars, this project was built with the contributions of people from every sector of society, including National Geographic, Binney and Smith, the U.S. Postal Service, Mattel, Inc., and Discovery Communications. And of course the success depends on everyone continuing to participate and support this concept and enlist the imaginations of young people.

I remember when I met Eileen Collins, who will be the first woman space shuttle commander, sometime in April, we talked about how she used to lie on the hood of her father's car and watch planes take off. She'd sit there for hours staring up at the sky and imagining what lurks behind the stars. Donna Shirley, growing up in Oklahoma, used to do the same, looking up into those stars. And in her new autobiography, entitled appropriately enough, “Managing Martians,” she talks about how those early experiences shaped a lifelong dream and a life's work.

Children have always had their fingers and their eyes pointed toward the stars—and in a way, pointing toward their dreams. I hope the young people involved in the Mars Millennium Project will have that same experience, that same sense of connection that people like Eileen Collins and Shirley have had with what they can do to make their own dreams possible. And I hope that they will bring to this exercise everything they are proud about in their own lives, everything they value in their families, their culture and their community. I hope this is a way that they will envision bringing to a new home on Mars all that they honor of the past and imagine of the future. For what they will be building on paper here with their hearts, their minds, and their imaginations will help direct them as to what they need to be building one day on our earth. It is, after all, going to be theirs to shape and theirs to lead and theirs to inherit, and one day like all of us, theirs to pass on.

We have great expectations and hopes about the Mars Millennium Project, and I want to thank all of you who have worked with the White House Millennium Council to make this possible. And I for one look forward to seeing what our children imagine with those imaginations.

January 1999

Long-Term Care

Dolly Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar Unveiling

RUSH Presbyterian

Eid Al-Fitr Celebration

Mars Millennium Project

Qualified Teachers in Every Classroom Event

Families Agenda Rountable

NARAL Anniversary Luncheon

Social Security Teleconference

Foster Care Tranitioning

Jo Oberstar Breast Cancer Memorial Lecture

U.S. Conference of Mayors

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation Awards

Fifth Millennium Evening: Meaning of the Millennium

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E