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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to UCF Graduates: ‘There’s No Moonshot Beyond Your Reach’

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaking at a Spring 2024 commencement ceremony at UCF. (Photo by Kadeem Stewart ’17)
By: UCF News | May 6, 2024
“You know how to shoot for the moon — because this is America’s Space University,” Nelson said during his commencement speech Saturday afternoon.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson encouraged UCF graduates Saturday afternoon to reach for their “moonshot.”

“Knights, it’s no wonder that since the beginning, NASA has relied on UCF to help in our moonshots,” Nelson told engineering, computer science and optics graduates during his commencement address. “And Knights, it’s no wonder that it’s going to be a member of your generation who leaves their footprints on the red sands of Mars. So, to the Class of ‘24: you have moonshots in your DNA.

“Moonshots are big things. They’re bigger than any one of us. They’re bigger than all of us. Like Pegasus, you now have to reach for the skies— and now you can carry thunder and lightning with you.

“And you know how to aim for the moon—because this is America’s Space University. There’s no moonshot beyond your reach. So, decide what your moonshot will be — and then your launch, your liftoff, will happen right when you walk out those doors.”

UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright told Nelson, “You’re absolutely right. Our students are incredible, and they can all achieve any moonshot they set their minds to.”

UCF was founded in 1963 — and offered its first classes in 1968 — to help fuel talent to support the nearby space industry, and the university has partnered with NASA ever since, with UCF faculty and students working on about 700 NASA projects.

Many UCF space researchers and alumni are involved in the Artemis program. Planetary scientists Kerri Donaldson Hanna and Addie Dove are leading a $35 million NASA mission to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon in 2027 to explore never-before-visited volcanic domes and help inform future exploration. UCF researchers also are studying rocket propulsion, protecting astronauts and their equipment from harmful space dust, and the health impacts of space travel on astronauts.

Twenty-nine percent of Kennedy Space Center employees are UCF alumni. And UCF repeatedly ranks as the No. 1 provider of graduates to the aerospace and defense industry, according to Aviation Week Network.

“In 1968, as Apollo 7 propelled Americans into space — and later, through Apollo 11, to land on the Moon — UCF began to educate and inspire a new generation of leaders: the Apollo generation,” Nelson said. “And I ask you today to give your imagination to help us achieve another dream — now to return humanity to the moon and then to look onward to Mars and beyond.”

Nelson has served as NASA’s 14th administrator for three years. A fifth-generation Floridian, he previously represented the state as a U.S. senator for 18 years and a congressman for 12 years. UCF awarded Nelson the Exemplary Public Service Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, recognizing his longtime service in government.

“I have the honor of serving a storied organization that makes history — that makes the impossible possible,” Nelson told graduates, citing the James Webb Space Telescope a million miles away, always on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. “At NASA, we know a thing or two about moonshots. Because we’re going back (to the moon) after a half-century. This time, we’re going to learn to live, to experiment on the lunar surface — to invent, to create in order for us not just to go the moon, but to go further — to go to Mars and beyond.

“We’re expanding upon the vision of President John Kennedy that he laid forth in 1961 … He challenged our country to unite behind a bold endeavor, once thought impossible. He made America believe in moonshots. And today, moonshots are not confined to the cosmos. Moonshots are imagined, developed and achieved here on Earth — by people like you.”

In 1986, Nelson trained and flew with the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia for mission STS-61C, the 24th flight of the Space Shuttle. While orbiting Earth 98 times over six days, Nelson conducted 12 medical experiments, including the first American stress test in space on a treadmill and a cancer research experiment sponsored by university researchers.

“Kennedy didn’t have all the answers when he dared America to go to the moon, but he had the courage to dream,” Nelson said. “So, graduates, you don’t need all the answers on this special day. What you need today is to have the confidence and trust to decide what is your moonshot. Confidence that you will do what is hard and trust that what you can achieve is great. Confidence and trust that you will be a part of something larger than any one person. So, what’s your moonshot?”

UCF awarded about 9,800 degrees this weekend, including nearly 3,000 in STEM fields and about 1,400 in engineering and computer science.

Story from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to UCF Graduates: ‘There’s No Moonshot Beyond Your Reach’ by Chad Binette for UCF Today