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Let’s Ensure Our Nation’s Commitment to Space Exploration

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The author of this entry is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
April 20, 2012 | 2,531 views | 5 comments

By U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

For more than 50 years, human space exploration has inspired Americans. Now more than ever, we must capture the imaginations of our young people if they are to aspire to be the scientists and explorers of the future.

I was reminded of this recently when I joined a group of Cub Scouts on their visit to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. They had a memorable adventure, riding on a Lunar Rover model, scrambling around in a mock-up space capsule and quizzing retired astronauts about living in zero gravity. At one point, one of the boys asked, "Why has America given up on space flight?"

The answer, of course, is that we're not giving up on space flight. But this Cub Scout's question highlights an urgent question about our nation’s commitment to America’s next chapter of human space exploration.

Two years ago, our nation’s leadership in space was at a critical turning point. The Obama Administration was poised to virtually abandon human space exploration. Aware that this shift would quickly undermine our irreplaceable human and technological expertise, I worked hard to negotiate a bipartisan NASA reauthorization bill that established a way forward for the U.S. space program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and I set an achievable, long-range plan for continuing American leadership in space exploration and for encouraging new commercial ventures in low-Earth orbit.

Senator Nelson and I worked throughout 2011 to secure a commitment from the Administration to develop the new Space Launch System’s heavy-lift rocket and the Orion crew capsule needed for deep space exploration.

As this development work proceeds, Houston will remain the heart and soul of America's human space flight program. The proud Space Shuttle program was managed in Houston, each mission was controlled by the talented professionals at Mission Control, and all astronauts who have flown on shuttles have been trained in the community. The JSC’s astronauts, engineers, and scientists -- several of whom met our Cub Scouts -- are now putting their expertise and experience towards helping to achieve the long-range goals of deep space exploration.

As we move forward, we need to accomplish both of NASA’s long-range goals. America’s leadership in human space exploration depends on creating new heavy-lift launch systems and technologies for missions to Mars and beyond. These are challenges at the leading edge of science and technology for which NASA’s scientists, astronauts, and experts are uniquely suited.

We must also encourage America’s entrepreneurs to invest in creating a commercial space industry. This starts with American space companies building reliable, low-Earth orbit launch systems for ferrying crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) -- services for which we currently rely on Russia and its Soyuz system. As our private companies develop space services capabilities, new industries and American jobs will be created for the future.

Space exploration is not inexpensive. But America’s space program has proven to be a wise investment, leading the way to revolutionary improvements in medicine, communications, weather forecasting, and national security. Technologies developed for our space program -- microchips, MRI cancer detection equipment, and much more -- have improved our lives and created entire new industries that employ millions of Americans.

Both of these long-range priorities are essential. Postponing our long-range space exploration program would be a terrible mistake, as bad as remaining dependent on Russia to move our crew members to the space station.

Every penny we spend must be invested wisely - especially in today's economic environment. If we reconfigure our priorities every few years, we will not reach our goals nor will taxpayer dollars be used most prudently. A key step for NASA to take this year is focusing taxpayers’ investment in commercial space development on no more than two firms that show the capability of providing ISS cargo and crew transportation services by 2017.

In less than a single lifetime, space exploration has broken through unthinkable barriers. We need to continue pushing those barriers, so that youth today -- like that Cub Scout -- inherit a program that continues, not abdicates, our preeminence in space exploration.

Hutchison is the senior U.S. senator from Texas and Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
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Your Opinions and Comments

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
May 1, 2012 3:43pm
I keep waiting for Obama to say something that we can verify is the truth!

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
April 28, 2012 10:54am
Hey, we need to divert as much money as possible from pure research and it's wonderful discoveries (Space) to every 'green energy' project we can find. Maybe 'green energy' will somehow be the basis for more discoveres... More ›

Rock'n chair Rambler  
Over Taxed, TX  
April 28, 2012 7:52am
"space exploration has broken through unthinkable barriers. " We should be figuring out a way to break through the unthinkable national debt and explore that little problem before we go exploring space. Can... More ›

Alvin Charmaine  
April 26, 2012 5:10pm
I heard that some private companies were going to be mining asteroids for minerals. Thats pretty cool. Seems like NASA ought to beat them to the rocks, and fund themselves with the booty.

Elaine K.  
April 20, 2012 1:05pm
New post.

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