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It was the summer of 1969 and there was excitement everywhere, the United States was about to land on the moon. I remember it well because we were at the beach and could look at the sky towards the moon every night. We imagined we could see the Apollo 11 space capsule circling as it was getting ready to release the lunar module for landing. It was an incredible time, and it reflected an incredible mission and the spirit of grit, determination, resilience, vision, and grand aspirations. Perhaps it was a period like no other but it was born out of the trials that had preceded in the previous three decades. It was the culmination of an inspirational president who led a nation to believe, think, dream in ways that recognized its best character.

I remember that time because, for several years and months before Apollo 11 attempted to land on the moon, there were other Apollo space flights. Each had its own risk each had its own ambition and each was an incremental step towards a greater good. With each struggle there was resilience there was perseverance there was determination. And again it all was a culmination of decades of the American spirit forged through trial, duress, pain, sacrifice, suffering, death, and the most monumental and existential of threats — including economic downfall and a global war.

It was in 1969 (yes, I am old), that the United States was meeting its destiny and through its perseverance of all the previous decades reaching the culmination of new heights. A nation formed around principles, believing in rational thought, enlightenment, and the better spirits of all human beings. While not living up to that in all aspects and in many serious and tragic ways, the perseverance to move forward was there. The morning of the Apollo 11 landing, I remember rushing into the motel room from the beach, sand still beneath our feet, bursting with excitement to watch Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Small motel room of modest furnishings with the black and white TV and a dream in our minds and now in our eyes completed because there was a spirit of perseverance in this great nation of ours.

In the recent Mars expedition, we witnessed the same perseverance. And an apropos name because going to Mars required great spirit, a belief, grit, determination, and full perseverance. This is a mission that will help define a future that can be brighter for all of us if we’re willing to examine it, understand it, and appreciate it. The lessons learned, the science found, the discoveries made, will inform our future which must, in many ways consider, those things beyond our Earth. As we move into a century of new challenges and threats, our determination to fix our problems and strengthen resolve through new means of science, enlightenment, and a better future.

Last week, I joined millions of people around the world to witness the landing of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. It was an extraordinary moment as it completed its 300 million mile journey from Earth and successfully descended onto the Jezero Crater.

The rover’s name was submitted by eighth-grader Alex Mather before the pandemic and was selected from a pool of over 28,000 entries and it came to be a “rallying cry” for the NASA team. Perseverance has also become the rallying cry for every one of us as we navigated the many lessons in grit, determination, and resilience over the past year.

It is so very powerful and inspiring to think of the two rovers, Perseverance and Curiosity, navigating around the red planet collecting data, information, and amazing views and sharing them with us here on Earth. Teamwork and extraordinary human efforts made this possible and the teamwork of the machines is a reminder that transformation and collective advancement can be brought about by perseverance and curiosity.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

NASA engineers encoded the message, “Dare mighty things” in binary code pattern on the Perseverance’s parachute, which is also emblazoned on the wall at NASA and borrowed from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover’s mission is to search for antimicrobial life and explore the past habitability of Mars. The Perseverance will also test technologies to advance the future of human exploration on the planet.

The mission is a science and innovation victory and it is a victory for the human spirit as we rebound from a pandemic and continue accelerating through this new chapter of the Knowledge Age. Achieving space landmarks and witnessing them in real-time is a reminder of the transformative human traits around resilience, ingenuity, and ambition that make new discoveries possible.