June 18, 2018
Your Excellencies CHUCH Phoeurn and PRAK Sonnara from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts; Your Excellency Dr. IM Koch from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport; Mr. KONG Vireak, Director of the National Museum; Mr. Bertrand Porte from École Française d’Extrême-Orient; STEM Cambodia representatives; Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honored to be here for the opening the exhibition of Cambodia’s very own Goodwill Moon Rock as part of the National Museum’s upcoming centenary anniversary!
Last fall, the National Museum approached the U.S. Embassy to investigate the background of this unique artifact in its collection. The history and background remained a mystery until after six months of research with NASA, the U.S. National Archives, the U.S. Library of Congress, the Cambodian National Library and Archives, and the Center for Khmer Studies library. We can now reveal today – for the first time – the history of this unique gift from the United States to Cambodia.
In 1962 U.S. President John F. Kennedy laid out his vision of sending a man to the Moon. President Kennedy spoke those iconic lines: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” The mission to the moon was incredibly hard and tested the limits of technology and of what we thought was possible at that time.
Just seven years after Kennedy’s famous speech – the Apollo 11 mission finally fulfilled President Kennedy’s dream when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon’s surface for the first time on July 20, 1969. Subsequent Apollo missions brought astronauts back to the Moon, and the Moon Rock you see here today comes from the final mission to the Moon – Apollo 17.
After that mission, President Nixon wanted to share a part of this adventure with the world, and so he sent pieces of a lunar sample to 135 different countries in 1973. U.S. Ambassador Emory Swank presented Cambodia’s Moon Rock to the National Minister of Education at the time, Dr. Keo Sangkim on July 19, 1973.
Although this rock may be small, its symbolism is large. In his letter to all the countries that received a Moon Rock, President Nixon wrote: “If people of many nations can act together to achieve the dreams of humanity in space, then surely we can act together to accomplish humanity’s dream of peace here on earth. It was in this spirit that the United States of America went to the Moon, and it is in this spirit that we look forward to sharing what we have done and what we have learned with all mankind.”
This Moon Rock is a symbol of our longstanding goodwill to Cambodia and the Cambodian people.
We hope this exhibit inspires young Cambodians to dream big. Don’t let the boundaries of what you think is possible stand in your way. Many of the technological advances we depend on today came from scientists developing unique solutions to the scientific challenges of sending a person to the Moon.
STEM education took humankind to the Moon, and it surely will take us much farther in the future as well. Maybe some of you standing in this room today will even witness or be a part of the next great mission, sending a human to Mars.
Thank you once again to the National Museum and to the École Française d’Extrême-Orient for their collaboration in putting together this unique exhibit for the benefit and education of the Cambodian people.
Thank you all for coming today, and I hope you enjoy this special exhibit.