Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Contributions of Space to National Imperatives

May 18, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C.—Next week is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s historic address before a special joint session of Congress. In that address, the president famously challenged the nation to send a man to the moon.

While best remembered for its “Moon Challenge”, the address also offered a vision for space exploration. Fifty years later, this vision has paid off in ways that neither he, nor the nation, could have fathomed at the time.

Yes, we’ve sent hundreds of people to space. And yes, we’ve erected a national laboratory 200 miles above the Earth. We’ve even begun to unravel the mysteries of the universe by deploying the Hubble space telescope. 

But America’s space exploration has meant much more than just going to space. The technology we’ve developed to get there has led to new innovations, new breakthroughs and new discoveries. And this has helped make America prosperous, inspired future generations of scientists and engineers, and boosted our economy.

The Space Shuttle Program alone has generated more than 100 technology spinoffs, including miniaturized heart pumps, laboratory instruments that allow faster blood analysis, hand-held devices that warn pilots of dangerous or deteriorating cabin pressure, and prosthetic limbs that are lighter and stronger.

The list goes on and on—and that’s just technologies derived from the Space Shuttle Program. Our space exploration has led to countless discoveries which save and improve lives here on Earth. For all those reasons, and more, it is critical that we maintain our space leadership. That’s what members of this Committee have fought to do. 

Last year, we drafted and passed legislation that laid out a carefully considered bipartisan vision of the best path forward for NASA. It was a vision that enabled ambitious investments in science, aeronautics, education and human space flight exploration, while also recognizing current budgetary constraints. It laid out a new way for NASA.

More than seven months after President Obama signed this bill into law, I am concerned NASA is not moving forward with implementing it with the urgency it requires. I’m worried that NASA’s inaction and indecision in making this transition could hurt America’s space leadership—something that would cost us billions of dollars and years to repair.

It is for this reason that I’m prepared to step up the Committee’s oversight today.

This morning I, along with members of this Committee, sent a letter to Administrator Bolden. The letter outlines steps NASA should to take to help this Committee determine whether it is fully implementing the law. As I’ve said before, implementation of the law is a priority for me, and for this Committee. We simply can’t afford to get it wrong.

I look forward to hearing more from our witnesses today about the impact of space investments on our economy, national security, technological innovation and global competitiveness. And I look forward to another 50 years of U.S. space leadership.