When my brother James and his bride Nancy were on the altar saying their wedding vows, Nancy's brother David was not in attendance with the rest of the family. I wasn't sure why at the time, but a few years later a photograph hanging on the wall in their home was proof positive that he had a legitimate excuse for missing the ceremony. The photo, signed with best wishes to the newlyweds, showed David Low tethered outside the space shuttle Columbia, on which he was circling the Earth at the time the couple said their vows.
During his 12-year tour with NASA, David flew three shuttle missions, orbiting the planet 540 times. He also served as the spacecraft communicator, or "capcom," at Mission Control for three shuttle missions, including the first flight after the explosion of the Challenger in 1986.
David died last month at the age of 52. A true American hero and man of courage, his family, friends and colleagues mourn his early passing.
David and Nancy come from a family of pioneers. Their father, George M. Low, served in NASA leadership positions from the agency's inception through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. As the agency's deputy administrator from 1969 to 1976, he was one of the leading figures in the early development of the Space Shuttle, the Skylab program and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
It was Mr. Low who suggested to President John F. Kennedy in 1960 that the United States could send a man to the moon within 10 years one of the most imaginative and daring human endeavors in history. It literally defined the American spirit of that generation.
It is my hope that the next U.S. president will honor the vision of George M. Low, the courage of his son David and the bold leadership of John F. Kennedy by issuing a new 10-year challenge for the country. Just as the call to place a man on the moon led to a decade of technological innovation and the achievement of that goal, a clarion call from our nation's next leader must inspire us all to work to tackle climate change and set the country on a new course to reduce the country's disproportionate contribution to the global problem.
NASA's Laboratory for Atmospheres at the Goddard Space Center houses some 300 scientists, technologists and administrative personnel whose mission is to advance the knowledge and understanding of the atmospheres of Earth and the planets. Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the United Nations and other international agencies, NASA could place the United States in the vanguard of global efforts to predict and combat climate change, considered by many to represent the greatest challenge to the planet of our generation. The Low family and JFK showed inspired leadership that has carried us over almost half a century. Now it is time for us to uphold their ideals in the face of new challenges. As President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."
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