Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on The Case for Space: Examining the Value

October 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Our space program is at a critical juncture. While the President is reviewing recent findings from the Augustine Commission on NASA’s human spaceflight plans, ongoing budget challenges mean that we have to establish our priorities and make difficult choices.
Space exploration is expensive and risky; the return on the investment is often far off and requires great patience.
Last month, this subcommittee held a hearing on the Augustine Commission’s review, and in my statement I said that we need to ask tough questions about the value of space exploration. I am glad that conversation is underway. And with this hearing, we have a distinguished panel engaged in the discussion.
Past exploration has contributed to America’s economic strength and competitiveness; technological advancement; national security; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; and improved international relations.
Space exploration is all about basic scientific research.  It has led to new solutions for some of today’s most pressing problems—including health care, climate change, and cybersecurity—while keeping our nation on the forefront of technological innovation for nearly 50 years. 
That innovation is fundamental to our economic competitiveness. Our nation’s aerospace industry accounts for nearly 2 percent of the U.S. GDP and has the largest trade surplus of any manufacturing sector.
We have recently seen the reach and impact of those benefits in my own state, West Virginia, where scientists and engineers have designed the first composite-material equipment carrier certified for space flight. It is lighter, stronger, and more versatile than previous carriers, allowing for more scientific instruments and other cargo on missions. And it has already been put to use, flying on the Space Shuttle Atlantis for its very successful Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission.  
The space program has a good track record of producing useful spinoff technologies in fields from medicine to transportation and public safety. And NASA has succeeded in translating that technology to the private sector, creating new growth and additional investment. Yet, the agency and its partners often fall short when it comes to communicating that success to the tax-paying public.
NASA should know that, until significant improvements are made, I will continue to be critical of its program management and accounting. However, I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. Space exploration, in general, and NASA, in particular, have made valuable contributions to science, technology, and our economic competitiveness.  Still, the challenge remains; we must align this considerable investment with our national priorities, and communicate its importance to the American public.
I look forward to your testimony.