Preserving America’s Leadership in Space Exploration and Research
For more than 40 years, the United States has led the world in human space flight and the critical research and technology development that supports exploration, scientific study, and the medical breakthroughs that have fueled our economy and created thousands of private sector jobs. NASA’s highly skilled employees have worked tirelessly to maintain this leadership. And Texas has played a central role in that work throughout NASA’s remarkable history.
Earlier this year, however, the outlook for NASA was grim as we confronted a budget environment that would not support the continued human space flight activities of the agency without some significant changes. At the same time, the Obama Administration’s proposal canceled many key NASA manned space flight sys- tems and would have led to the rapid and catastrophic loss of personnel and skills needed to develop a new launch system capable of taking us to new destinations beyond lower earth orbit and the moon. The Administration’s proposal would have effectively ended the era of U.S. dominance in space exploration while threatening our utilization of and $100 billion investment in the International Space Station. The President’s original proposal endangered the missions that are the lifeblood of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and crippling job losses seemed inevitable. In other states with key NASA missions, workforces were also jeopardized.
On September 29, Congress passed an authorization bill for NASA that made significant changes in the President’s stated plan and now we are in a much better position to preserve the future of human spaceflight in America. The President signed this measure into law on October 11. I believe the new law provides a robust mission for NASA with significant support for important scientific research and technology development and an enduring commitment to exploration.
The crux of the new approach is simple. We will use as many as possible of the skills, parts, and resources we already have on hand to lower development costs without compromising capability or performance. We will build one launch vehicle and one crew exploration vehicle at a time rather than multiple ones. Ensuring there is a launch system and exploration vehicle under development preserves the key missions of the Johnson Space Center. There will be an ongoing need for Mission Control and astronaut training done in Houston and the Bay Area. There will be an additional shuttle flight, which will allow for the delivery of additional supplies to ensure the viability, extension, and use of the space station, another key function of the Johnson Space Center. This extra flight will also preserve critical skills and workforce, much of which can be transitioned to the new program.
I fought for this legislation because it was the right solution to the extraordinary challenge we were presented. But this is not the end of the struggle for NASA and communities, like Houston, whose economic well-being are intertwined with the agency’s. Rather, the new law is a foundation upon which to build as we move forward toward a sustainable American space program with a robust mission for the Johnson Space Center and a bright future for its brain trust.
As a state, we should brace ourselves for challenges as the workforces of Johnson Space Center and NASA contractors are calibrated to the new mission. There are some who have already lost their jobs, and others may follow; but the core of NASA’s mission, and the vast majority of its talented scientists, engineers, and technicians will remain. Undoubtedly, in the months ahead, more questions will be raised about NASA funding and the feasibility of the approach laid out in the new law. I know the enormity of this task, and I promise that my work to advance the future of human space flight and to preserve the critical role of the Johnson Space Center and Texas’ NASA workforce will continue.
I want to personally thank the Texas communities that have stepped in and offered assistance and support to displaced NASA employees and contractors. I hope businesses within the aerospace industry will take advantage of the world-class skills these workers possess and will work together with community leaders to identify further opportunities. I will continue my efforts to ensure full and faithful implementation of the new law.
While producing a budget that is more sustainable and providing efficiencies for the wisest use of taxpayers’ dollars, we are preserving the research and exploration that will add to the economic security and future of America.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.