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Op-Eds :: September 30, 2009

U.S. Must Lead World in Space [Gordon]

Published in The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee Copyright 2009

This ran in The Tennessean on September 30, 2009.

By U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon

Recently, the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee at NASA released its initial summary report. One of the findings was that NASA's next human spaceflight program, Constellation, has not been given the resources it will need to be able to complete the job they've begun.

This is not really news. Although there is near-unanimous support in Congress for a balanced and robust program at NASA, including human spaceflight and exploration, NASA has been allocated funding that doesn't match the important and challenging assignments we Americans have asked of our space agency.

The bottom line now is that the money needs to match the mission. We either have to give NASA the resources that it needs to do the jobs the nation wants it to do, or we need to stop pretending that it can do all we've put on its plate.

However, I want to make clear that this isn't just an issue for budgetary "bean counters" to decide. NASA's activities have made important advances since its establishment that have made positive changes to everyday life. Communications satellites, and space-based weather monitoring and prediction are part of our basic national infrastructure. Cordless power tools have their roots in the Apollo program, and some 18-wheeler truck designs have used NASA's aerodynamic technology to reduce air drag.

The accomplishments of the human spaceflight program, especially the moon landing, have also inspired a generation to pursue careers in science and engineering and led to a flowering of innovation that has helped strengthen our national economic competitiveness over the past 40 years. Moreover, the human spaceflight program has been a visible symbol of American technological prowess around the world.

NASA is making progress

My focus is on the future. We are in the depths of a recession, and we need to be more careful than ever that federal money is being invested wisely and helping to grow jobs. The last thing we need is a shortsighted "start-stop" approach to programs under way at NASA. Not only would that hurt NASA's highly skilled work force, but once that work force is disbanded, it would be very difficult to rebuild. The independent review panel has confirmed that NASA's Constellation program is well-managed and making progress. Given that, I wouldn't want to be penny-wise but pound-foolish by throwing out the four years and $8 billion we have invested. The program has met a number of technological milestones; two weeks ago was the successful test-firing of the booster, and a test flight of the full rocket is planned for next month.

If we do give up on human spaceflight, we would be ceding our international dominance at a time when China and others have made space exploration a priority. These nations would love the opportunity to assume dominance in the next decade and beyond, both for future commercial and military applications. The rest of the world is embracing space and the opportunities and leverage that it can provide. China, India, Japan, Europe and Russia are developing impressive facilities.

Our current leadership in the exploration and utilization of space will not endure unless we are willing to make a continued commitment to it. For me, the choice is clear: I want America to lead, not follow— space is too important to our national security, our economy and our quality of life.

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Bart Gordon, Chairman


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