The American space program is undergoing an exciting transformation. The completion of the International Space Station is on schedule, and it will soon be paying dividends as an engineering and research laboratory as we plan our nation’s return to the moon.
Production and testing of a new generation of space vehicles is also making good progress, with test flights planned for 2009.
During the Apollo program, the development and operation of complex, integrated space systems required revolutionary thinking, which led to new manufacturing methods and industrial capabilities that rippled throughout our economy.
As a result, new industries were born which benefited our nation for decades to follow.
Space flight is a strategic capability for our nation, and it is critical that we maintain our leadership position for both national security and global economic success.
The money we spend on NASA is nothing less than an investment in our future. For less than 6/10ths of one cent on every dollar of the federal budget, we are investing in future ecological alternatives to traditional energy sources, waste management, and foods. We are revitalizing the interest of our children in math and science. We are driving the development of new technologies in medical, telecommunications, aviation, safety/health industries, and we are seeding new markets with new business opportunities.
The challenges of space exploration drive NASA to solve problems that are directly integral to our quality of life on earth. Challenges like providing clean air, water and food, and protecting astronauts from hazards like exposure to dangerous radiation, the deterioration of bones, muscles and organs all require solutions that will advance human exploration, but also have very practical applications on earth.
The public wants a space program and is willing to support it. Gallup polls show more than two-thirds of the American public support it so long as NASA’s share of the federal budget is reasonable – and the current NASA level of less than 1 percent of the federal budget certainly meets that criteria. Overall support for the program remains strong in Congress, which has fully funded the program three years in a row.
John F. Kennedy was the first of our nation’s leaders to fully appreciate the strategic importance of space exploration. He recognized that the United States trailed the Soviet Union in human space flight, and he recognized its significance to the world’s perception of America’s leadership, saying: "Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it – we mean to lead it."
Let’s keep leading – let’s keep NASA fully funded.
Daniel Brandenstein is executive vice president and chief operating officer of United Space Alliance LLC, NASA’s prime space shuttle contractor. Brandenstein is a four-time shuttle astronaut and is a native of Watertown, Wis. He graduated from Watertown High School and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.