Michael Griffin: 'Leadership goes to those who fulfil the dreams of mankind'

From a speech by the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), to the California Space Authority
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To journey beyond the known world today, we must leave Earth entirely. That is the long-held dream that has actively engaged our country and others for nearly 50 years, since our first primitive steps in the exploration of space became possible.

Leadership in establishing a human presence in the solar system will be a key factor in defining world leadership back home on Earth for generations to come. Throughout history, the great civilisations have always extended the frontiers of their times. Indeed, this is almost a tautology; we define as "great" only those civilisations which did explore and expand their frontiers, thereby ultimately influencing world culture. And when, inevitably, some societies retreated from the frontiers they had pioneered, their greatness subsided as well.

Indeed, if we were alive 500 years ago, and a candlelight conference were held in Lisbon by the Portuguese Oceans Authority, no doubt we would be listening to such giants of exploration as Vasco da Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral, the explorer who claimed Brazil for Portugal, explain how their activities would bring about Portugal's rise to global influence. Perhaps all of us would be speaking Portuguese today had not first Spain, and then later England, made a greater commitment to the discovery, exploration, and settlement of new territories.

As an example of how the choices that nations make matter, not only for themselves, but also for the future of humanity, let us consider the case of John Cabot.

Cabot, whose true name was Giovanni Caboto, was an Italian who sailed for the English government and with private merchants, after Spain and Portugal expressed no interest in his ideas on finding a westward passage to Asia. While exploring the coastal regions of North America in Newfoundland, he established the basis for England's claim to North America, and was the first to bring our language to the shores [where] we now live.

Leadership in the world of the 21st century and beyond will go to the nation that seeks to fulfil the dreams of mankind.