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John Glenn and Earth orbit anniversary: America needs manned flight in space

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The list of the fruits of investments in NASA that have become embedded in daily life is practically endless, whether they be as broad in scope as global satellite communications or as specific as smoke detectors, cordless power tools, digital mammography, body imaging, specialized formula for infants, and firefighter breathing systems. The Apollo and shuttle programs alone resulted in over 200 commercialized applications.

I know that some say: “The space race is over, we won it more than 40 years ago, and supporters of human space exploration are just captive to nostalgia.”

I disagree. We are in a new, equally demanding “space race” – a race to inspire young people to acquire the science and engineering skills they will need to compete for the jobs of the future; a race to develop the technologies that will not only help Americans explore space but also strengthen our economy and improve quality of life back here on Earth; and a race to maintain our leadership as a space-faring nation in the face of growing competitive challenges by other nations.

During a hearing before our committee last fall, Mr. Armstrong testified that by not continuing manned space flight, America jeopardizes its future science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce, and I couldn’t agree more.

“A substantial current and long range threat is, and will be, the downward trend in engineering degrees granted in this country and the substantial increase in such graduates in other parts of the world,” said Mr. Armstrong.

He continued, “Public policy must be guided by the recognition that we live in a technology driven world where progress is rapid and unstoppable. Our choices are to lead, to try to keep up, or to get out of the way. A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to gain.”

There are also those who say: “It’s time to get the government out of space exploration – let the private sector do it.” Such a statement ignores the fact that the US human space flight program – and NASA in total – represents one of the most effective public-private partnerships in pursuit of challenging goals that this country has ever seen.

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