President Ford: Space Advocate

Los Angeles Air Force Base -- Former president Gerald Ford has died at the age of 93. In addition to an illustrious political career, the president was a military veteran and a naval officer who saw many sea engagements during World War II. Most people remember the president for pardoning former President Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal. What many people may not realize is Ford was also a staunch advocate of the U.S. space program.

A member of the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration in 1958, Ford helped draft the original Space Act that gave NASA its charter. As the President, Mr. Ford continued his steadfast support of the space program. Ford oversaw the first joint manned space effort, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, in which U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts successfully docked their spacecraft and worked together in space for the first time. Ford also oversaw man's first planetary exploration with the Viking I and Viking II spacecraft landing on Mars in 1976. Ford even named the first Space Shuttle. In keeping with naval tradition, he insisted that the first ship of the line be named Enterprise. This to the delight of Star Trek fans around the country and to the chagrin of NASA who wanted to name the first shuttle Constitution.

Reports on space activities written by Ford hailed the on-going development of satellites and the data received from interplanetary probes as "a major contribution to our quality of life and economic growth."

Although Saturday Night Live regularly featured skits by Chevy Chase who portrayed Ford as clumsy; the president was actually quite an accomplished athlete. He excelled in many sports including his position as a star center in college for the Michigan Wolverines. Ford was even offered positions on the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

The current president, George W. Bush says, "President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character."