Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

Congress, White House must work towards a strong space policy

August 29, 2012

The Hill
Congress, White House must work towards a strong space policy

By Rep. Pete Olson(R-Tex.) - 08/29/12 10:56 AM ET

Like millions of Americans, I mourn the loss of Neil Armstrong, a personal hero and a national icon. One of my earliest childhood memories was of watching the Eagle lunar module land on the Moon and later that night, my parents waking us to see history in the making as Neil stepped out of the “LEM” onto the lunar surface. It was an historic first step by a human being on another celestial body.  The accomplishments of the Apollo moon missions are on my mind and even more so with the passing of Neil Armstrong. Why? Because leaving the Moon in 1972 with no planned return was like winning the Super Bowl, then skipping the playoffs for more than forty years. America's absence from the field of human space exploration is not the result of a lack of talent, but from a failure to develop a game plan and the visionary leadership to see it through. With his historic "one small step," the extraordinary NASA team fulfilled America’s ultimate goal, a bold mission pronounced by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, of "putting a man on the Moon and safely returning him to Earth." When the president died in 1963, this goal was far from realized, but Presidents Johnson and Nixon kept the dream alive. The support for and resolve of, the NASA team strengthened - and they were successful.

In the years since his mission, Armstrong believed deeply that America should continue to explore new worlds. Upon learning the Obama Administration had cancelled NASA's plans to return to the Moon, Armstrong - a very private man - became a vocal critic of this lack of ambition and the willingness to allow other nations to surpass America’s space leadership. The state of NASA's human space exploration plans, he told Congress last fall, is "lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable." One of the highlights of my life was shaking the hand of my childhood hero. We were united in our opposition to President Obama's plan to cancel the Constellation program and diminish the priority of human spaceflight in his 2010 budget and National Space Policy. I was humbled and honored to work with him and several other Apollo astronauts to fight to restore a strong NASA budget and a comprehensive human space exploration program. America needs a clear and purposeful mission worthy of our nation’s continued investment to regain our leading role and remain competitive in the global space industry.

To accomplish this, we need a president with vision and the will to encourage and work with Congress to develop a comprehensive space policy. We need a leader who understands that American exceptionalism is embodied in pioneering efforts to explore the universe. Achieving these goals will result in the kind of breakthrough research and development that gave us advanced computers, global positioning systems and satellites, life-saving medical technology, and countless other innovations and inventions that have improved our quality of life.

Those who argue we do not have the resources or say government should not play a role in space exploration are short-sighted and wrong. Our national security demands that we have better technology than China for our satellites and intelligence operations. Congress and the White House must make the national investments needed to maintain U.S. dominance in this arena. A strong space policy also inspires future generations to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math - the STEM disciplines needed to retain the talent and genius required to maintain global competitiveness.

But what drives all these tangible space priorities is the basic human desire to explore and expand our knowledge and comprehension of the possible. Therefore, we must outline a clear, long-term human spaceflight strategy with specific, near-term goals. We should return to the Moon by 2020 with the larger goal of then setting foot on Mars. Congress can sensibly appropriate, authorize and enact multi-year funding to provide stability for the development of the complex space systems needed to achieve these goals. And finally, we must reorient NASA for the long-term, focusing on the agency’s foundations of space exploration and aeronautics research.

Neil Armstrong's life and legacy of hard work, dedication, intellect and humble nature epitomized all that is great about America. Our nation suffers a loss, but his courage and commitment will live on. We can honor his legacy by supporting a strong human space exploration program that returns Americans to the Moon and then takes them to Mars and beyond.