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Apollo 11's example


Apollo 11's example

Rep. Pete Olson
Washington Times

 Forty years ago tomorrow, the world united to watch the Apollo 11 mission send men to the moon and return them safely to Earth.

There are millions of Americans who were not even born when this incredible feat occurred. The comparison is striking. You have Americans who remember every detail of where they were when this event happened and another segment of our population for whom men on the moon is only a thing of history, documentaries and recollections.

There will be many tributes to the men and women of the Apollo 11 mission. I say men and women because it was not just the three crew members' accomplishment. It took hundreds of thousands of workers to reach the goal.

But as we reflect on that achievement, what does it tell us about our future, not just in space exploration, but about the ability of our nation to accept a task and boldly advance toward achieving it, step by step?

Following President Kennedy's stirring speech setting the goal to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, billions of dollars were pledged and spent; technology that was not even invented at the time had to be perfected; and, sadly, lives were lost in our journey to the moon and back.

There will be many references these next few weeks to Mr. Kennedy's bold vision. I wonder if, today, citing that speech has the opposite effect on many. NASA has been put back on the path to the moon, but a "been there, done that" mentality amongst a less supportive public may make our return as difficult as our initial journey.

I am greatly worried that the Apollo moon landings may have signaled the end of lunar exploration when they should have been the beginning. There is almost universal agreement how tragic it was that Apollo missions 18 through 20 were cut because of budget constraints. Yet each year, Congress seems to endorse those cuts through failure to fully fund the goals we set for NASA.

Everyone knows about the incredible time frame between Mr. Kennedy's speech to Congress and the actual landing and return -- a little more than eight years, from May 1961 to July 1969. Yet equally astonishing to me is that there were just 66 years between when Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the skies in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

It has been 37 years since the last moon landing. The current NASA plan, which some are skeptical about, has us returning in 2020, which would be 48 years since Apollo 17. If we are not careful, it may take us as long to return to where we already have been as it took to get from the invention of flight to the first moon landing!

It has become a cliche for politicians to make references to the Apollo program with respect to finding domestic solutions to our energy crisis. The Apollo program was unique in our history, but it should be an example that with leadership, public will, the proper budget and, above all else, a well-defined objective, the United States can meet the challenge. This, to me, is the legacy of Apollo.

Rep. Pete Olson, Texas Republican, is ranking member of the House Science and Technology space subcommittee.