On July 20, Texans, Americans, and the world at large celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight to touch down on the Moon. When astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke those iconic words, he stunned rapt television viewers across our globe while also underscoring that Americans – and Texans in particular – are proud that NASA calls Houston home.
The Apollo Program brought us the first photographs of a distant Earth seen from a new perspective, as well as formidable advancements in technology and medicine.
The Apollo anniversary is a reminder that we can overcome challenges and achieve great things. The Senate recently confirmed former astronaut Charles Bolden, Jr., as NASA Administrator. He has a daunting task ahead of him, as we all await the outcome of the White House-ordered review of the nation’s human spaceflight programs, to help us determine the best path forward, and to ensure we have the resources to support long term goals.
Our nation faces a possible five-year gap in the ability to put humans in space. This would occur between the planned retirement of the space shuttle program next year and the earliest possible inauguration of the new Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule in 2015. Such a gap would greatly hinder American scientific research on the International Space Station because it would limit access; to reach the ISS, American astronauts would need to travel on foreign spacecraft, including those from Russia and possibly even China.
I am deeply concerned by our dependence on foreign spacecraft, but even more so by the impact that a five-year gap would have on the creative scientists and engineers who support our manned space programs. The potential loss of their skills during the transition has long-term implications for our state and our nation.
NASA partners with 63 universities and educational centers in Texas to provide new opportunities for medical research and technology. NASA’s 50-year tradition of scientific innovation makes it essential to our national defense. Space-based technology plays a preeminent role in modern warfare and intelligence gathering, for example.
NASA’s contributions affect ordinary Americans in our day-to-day lives. They include polymer fabrics that protect firefighters and members of the military from extreme temperatures; breakthrough medical technologies such as CAT scans and MRI machines; GPS technology; the satellite telecommunications network; memory foam; space blankets; shock-absorbing padding in football helmets; and advances in weather forecasting, robotics, electronics, and search-and-rescue technology.
President John F. Kennedy, whose vision spurred the Apollo missions, once spoke at Rice University and asked, “Why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? …. Why does Rice play Texas? …. 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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” In the same spirit, I believe now is the time for America to renew its commitment to the scientific research embodied by NASA, the International Space Station, and a mission to Mars. Exploration, innovation, and discovery are part of the very fiber of our American identity.
The prowess, imagination, and courage embodied by America’s aviation community have inspired the world for over a century. In only seventy years between 1899 and 1969, American ingenuity propelled us from the early exuberance over the Wright brothers’ biplane gliders, to the wonder of Charles Lindbergh’s first solo transatlantic flight, and to the astonishment of an American flag on the Moon. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 spaceflight, let us thank NASA for its extraordinary contributions to our state and our country, and let us strengthen it as it continues to reach for the stars.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.