It is the first day back to school for our students, and my thoughts are with this young man at Purdue University in 1958. His name is Sam Carlile, and he came from the small, southern Indiana town of Scottsburg. Born in 1935, he did not grow up in the easiest years of this country, years that for him were made more difficult by the drowning of his father during a Fourth of July celebration at Fall Creek in Indianapolis in 1943. His mother moved him, his older brother, Bob, and his younger sister, Patricia, back to her home in Scottsburg where she reared them on a single parent's income as a bank teller.
At a time when many of his classmates did not go on to college, Sam did, following in his brother's footsteps to Purdue University where he would study engineering. His sister went to Indiana State and majored in education, eventually earning her Master's as well and making all three of them the first generation of their family to graduate from college. Upon graduating from Purdue, Sam went to work for General Dynamics and spent his career in the space program at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
I know a lot about this family because it is my family. Patricia is my mother, and her brothers are my uncles. For my eleventh birthday, Uncle Sam...yes, I am one of the few people who can claim to have an actual Uncle Sam...sent me a note and some pictures of his work.
Among the pictures he sent were photographs of the Titan/Centaur-4 Viking A rocket and the Titan/Centaur-3 Viking B, both of which soft landed on Mars.
He also sent one of the Atlas/Centaur just prior to liftoff carrying an Intelsat communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit.
I was reminded of these dreams when I joined teachers from around the country and ten other nations for International Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, this summer. As I trained for a lunar mission, performed space-related experiments, and stood in awe of the Saturn V rocket while marveling anew at human achievement, I could not help thinking of Uncle Sam.
I do not know what inspired him toward his engineering degree or what led him to work in our space program. What I do know is that such stories are inspiring, and by that I mean both my uncle's story and the story of the American space race. They show us what we can do. They show us that obstacles and setbacks and difficult circumstances cannot derail dreams but quite often fuel them. They show us what happens when human beings dream of achievement far beyond what is possible at the moment, and in this I think it entirely appropriate that thoughts of my Uncle Sam are on my mind at the start of the school year, for school is and must always be for the dreamers.