5:04 P.M. EST
DR. WATKINS: Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
DR. WATKINS: This is Mike Watkins at JPL.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Mike. How are ya?
DR. WATKINS: I want to thank you so much. We are very well, especially after the — after February 18th.
THE PRESIDENT: I tell you what: You did an incredible job.
DR. WATKINS: We thank you for that, and we appreciate that. And it’s our honor to be given these kinds of tasks; it’s what we live for.
And so you may see here I’m surrounded by a few hundred of my best friends in this and a couple of other control rooms and online. You know, these are really big team efforts, and it’s important to us to get as much of the team to join with us today as we could. And we really appreciate your time.
THE PRESIDENT: Appreciate it. I’m flattered you’d take the time to let me talk to you.
DR. WATKINS: Well, we would love to have you out here someday. In fact, I’ve got two badges for you and the Vice President. So when COVID winds down, I hope you come out here and have a chance to meet the team directly.
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be happy to do that. I’ll be happy to do that.
Am I supposed to speak now or is Swati?
DR. WATKINS: Thanks. We would love it. You know, one of the things I wanted to also note — I think — you know, you — I know you watched — I saw pictures of you watching the landing coverage.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
DR. WATKINS: And, you know, that was a great opportunity, you know, for us to show, I think, the country what, you know, we can do — and the world, really — but also, you know, to bring a whole new generation of STEM, you know, into the fold.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
DR. WATKINS: And I think we had a lot of people watching who didn’t know that they were STEM people, but now they are —
THE PRESIDENT: Yep.
DR. WATKINS: — after having watched that. And it’s something we — you know, it’s very important to us. It’s a major part of what we do here at JPL and, of course, NASA as an agency. And we’re — it’s just great to have that — you know, that bully pulpit to showcase that talent.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s incredible talent.
Now, am I supposed to speak or is Swati going to say something? I was told I was going to hear from Swati.
DR. WATKINS: So, either way — any way you’d like to do it is fine. We have Dr. Mohan here with me. She — of course, you know her from the landing coverage. But —
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Doc. How are you?
DR. MOHAN: I’m doing very well, Mr. President. Thank you for —
THE PRESIDENT: I just want you to know —
DR. MOHAN: — for taking the time to speak with us.
THE PRESIDENT: Are you kidding me? What an honor this is. This is an incredible honor. And it’s amazing. Indian — of descent — Americans are taking over the country: you; my Vice President; my speechwriter, Vinay. I tell you what. But thank you. You guys are incredible.
Did you want to say something? I’ll be quiet.
DR. WATKINS: Absolutely. You know, tell us how you felt on landing day and, actually, what path brought you to here at the lab.
DR. MOHAN: Absolutely. So my path actually started way back when I was a child, watching my first episode of Star Trek. In addition to those fantastical scenes of space, what really captured my attention was this really close-knit team who was working together, manipulating this technological marvel with the sole purpose of exploring space and understanding new things and seeking new life.
You know, Perseverance is my first mission at JPL where I’ve gotten to work from the very beginning of formulation, all the way through operations, and it made me feel like I was part of that crew. Being able to work with this incredibly diverse, talented team that has become like a family, spending years creating our own technological marvel has been a privilege.
You know, those last days and weeks leading up to landing day, it was pretty smooth, but we were all still really nervous and, frankly, terrified until we got through those final seven minutes. To be able to call “touchdown” safely, to see those first images come back from Mars, to see the place where we have never been able to go to on Mars before and go there — reach there for the express purpose of seeking out new life just made it feel like I was living in a dream.
Now that that tremendous relief has passed for the team of being able to be there safely, all that’s left is the excitement and the thrill of all the scientific discoveries that are yet to come and what Perseverance can actually find — and hopefully find those signs of past life on Mars.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I tell you what, you said you feel like you’re “living a dream” — you’ve created a dream for millions and millions of young kids, young Americans. You talk about STEM. You — it was — look, the thing that I found so exhilarating about this: You all did this — the whole team — the team I can see now and the entire team at JPL — what you did: You restored a dose of confidence in the American people.
They were beginning to wonder about us. They were beginning to wonder: Are we still the country we always believed we were? You guys did it. You guys gave a sense of “America is back.” It‘s — it’s astounding what you did. You should not underestimate it. You should not underestimate it.
You know, you did it the most American way: You believed in science, you believed in hard work, and you believed there wasn’t a darn thing you couldn’t do if you put your minds together.
One of the reasons why we’re such an incredible country is we’re such a diverse country. We bring the best out of every single solitary culture in the world here in the United States of America, and we give people an opportunity to let their — let their dreams run forward.
And you just — I can’t tell you how much — you know, everyone was so down the last years about: Is America still the — the, you know, the fount of change? And are we still the country that has hopes and develops and pursues the most unlikely things to happen? And we are. And you all demonstrated it.
I’m not being — look, I’m not — I really mean this. It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars. It’s about the American spirit, and you brought it back. You brought back in a moment we so desperately need it.
I was reaching — I was talking to a head of state who was calling me about thanking me — or not thanking me — congratulating me on becoming President. And then I later heard from another head of state, saying, “America has changed so much. They — they used to be so competent to do great things, and here they can’t even deal with a coronavirus. Look how badly organized they are.” That was said by a head of state.
And America’s image in the world — and it matters. It matters because democracies have to demonstrate they can run as efficiently and more efficiently than autocracies. There’s a big battle going on. Your kids are going to be studying about when democracy once again reestablished it could do anything, as opposed to autocracies that can just command things.
I just — I just can’t tell you how much I believe historians are going to write about what you did at the moment you all did it — at the moment you all did it. You should take such great pride — such great pride in what you did.
We can land a rover on Mars. We can beat a pandemic. And with science, hope, and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country. We have never, ever, ever failed to meet a goal. We’ve set our mind to it, and we’ve done it together. And that’s what you all showed. So it goes way beyond — way beyond the whole notion of what you just recently did.
And God only knows what is going to come from this. God only knows what’s going to happen. But you all are incredible. All of the dreams you’ve created in other people’s minds — other young kids.
I tell you what: I just wanted to thank you and tell you, you know, you — it just seems that, you know, we’re on the side of the angels. Just at the moment when things look like they’re really dark in America over our history, something has come along. Something has come along. And you guys came along and you did this.
And so I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and tell you how presumptuous of me to say I’m proud of you, but I am so proud of you. And — and, Mike, the teamwork that still exists there, the importance of it, the consequence of what you’re doing — and it’s only just the start.
I had a group of folks in my office not too long ago — House and Senate members — I mean, House members — Democrats, and Republicans — talking about infrastructure. And I have in the — on the shelf in my Oval Office, a moon rock. And they walked over and said, “This is actually a moon rock from the moon?” And I jokingly said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait until see what comes home from Mars.”
So, anyway, folks, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’re great Americans, and you’ve demonstrated it again: There’s not a thing we cannot do when we set our mind to it.
God bless you all. Thank you. Thanks, Mike.
DR. WATKINS: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: And by the way, I’m like a poor relative, Mike. When I’m invited, I show up. So be careful. You know, the poor relatives, they show up even —
DR. WATKINS: We will —
THE PRESIDENT: They stay longer than they’re supposed to. I’m one of those kind of guys.
DR. WATKINS: Well, we will be more than happy to have you, and stay as long as you want.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m looking forward to seeing you all in person.
DR. WATKINS: We’ll get you an office here.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. Bye bye. Godspeed.
DR. WATKINS: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
5:14 P.M. EST