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But that big victory in the space race wasn’t assured in 1961, when President Kennedy declared that America would reach the moon by the end of the decade. “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind,” he said, adding, “and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Less than a year later, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, which he did three times in his Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7. In doing so, he overcame a litany of difficult problems and obstacles, flying some parts of the mission manually. Upon returning to Earth, Glenn was embraced by Americans as a symbol of heroism, dignity and achievement. I was one of those Americans, and to this day, I keep in my office a portrait of then-Lt. Col. Glenn (he was later promoted to Colonel), which he signed for this young admirer.
While my lifelong fascination with the skies ultimately led me not to NASA but to the airline business, the agency has certainly played a role in the lives of all of us who fly. In fact, NASA innovations have improved commercial air travel in hundreds of ways, from glass cockpits (the flat-panel digital displays that replaced the dial-and-gauge instruments our pilots previously relied on), to the winglets that reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency, to the grooved runways that make landings safer.
Beyond those tangible contributions, I have always seen NASA as an icon of American ingenuity, innovation and leadership — an example to reflect upon as my colleagues and I have set out to build a new American Airlines over the past year. Of course, our airline has been a symbol of progress in its own right for more than 80 years. We ushered in the jet age as the first airline to fly nonstop between Los Angeles and New York. We invented the frequent-flier program. And we developed a computerized reservations system that makes air travel much more accessible and easier to purchase.
Today, the American Airlines spirit of innovation and competition is very much renewed. This month, we will be the first U.S. carrier to fly the Boeing 777-300ER, which will offer the pinnacle of ease, comfort and service, along with the latest in connectivity and entertainment technology. From our hubs in the vibrant U.S. markets of Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Miami, we are launching new flights to growing markets around the world, including our first-ever service to Seoul, South Korea, from our hometown DFW hub this spring. Of course, the growing reach of our global network is bolstered by our oneworld partners, such as British Airways and Iberia across the Atlantic; Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas in the Pacific; and LAN in South America. Most importantly, we have a team of people who believe in our shared goal of putting American Airlines back on top and who understand that the only way to do that is to deliver for you — and to help you achieve new heights — day after day, year after year.
The rocket pioneer Krafft Ehricke once said that “man’s mind and spirit grow with the space in which they are allowed to operate.” I couldn’t agree more. For more than a half-century, NASA has been stretching the horizons, imaginations and aspirations of all mankind. That seems just as heroic to me today as it did when I was a kid, and of course, exploration and discovery are what air travel and American Airlines are all about.
Thank you for taking to the skies with us today, and we hope that today’s journey is one of many we will take together in the year to come.
Have a great trip.
Thomas W. Horton
Chairman & CEO