U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) spoke on the Senate floor today about the future of the nation’s space program and the importance of continuing to invest in new technologies to explore the heavens and one day take humans to Mars.
Nelson, who spent six days orbiting earth aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, said he remembers looking back at our planet through the window of the space shuttle and marveling “at the beauty, fragility, and seemingly peacefulness of Mother Earth.”“The whole experience reinforced my belief that we need to not only be good stewards of our planet but we should always strive to treat others who we may differ culturally, ethically, or socially, to treat them with dignity, compassion and respect,” Nelson said.
Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the nation’s space program said, “Our space program has a spectacular and an exciting future. It’s a future full of opportunity, and it is a future that will require everyone – industry, Congress, and the agency, as well as our international partners – pulling in the same together to make it a reality.”
Following is the full text of Nelson’s speech, and here’s a link to watch video of his remarks.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
December 10, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Madam president, I rise to speak today on a subject that our colleagues here know is very dear to my heart, America’s space program. And although this is the last of many, many floor speeches that I’ve made on that subject, I stand before the senate with a heart full of gratitude, joy, and hope for the future of our space program. I’ve been extremely privileged to have witnessed and in some cases participated in the extraordinary triumphs of our nation’s 60-year quest to explore the heavens. I flew to orbit and marveled at the beauty, fragility, and seemingly peacefulness of mother Earth, our planet. I had the honor of that trip with one of the finest crews to have ever flown in America’s space program. Captain Robert Gibson, our commander, major general retired Charlie Bolden, our pilot, who went on to command three missions, hoot having flown five missions, four as commander and of course GE Bolding ultimately becoming the administrator for NASA for the entire time of the Obama administration. Dr. George Nelson, otherwise known in the astronaut office to all as pinky, Dr. Steve Holy, Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, the first Hispanic American astronaut, and Bob Sinker, an engineer at the time with R.C.A., the satellite that we launched while on orbit.
It was a profound and humbling experiment. It was a profound and humbling experience of many experiments, but the whole experience reinforced my belief that we need to not only be good stewards of our planet but we should always strive to treat others who we may differ culturally, ethically, or socially, to treat them with dignity, compassion, and respect. Looking back at Earth from the window of a spacecraft, you don’t see political divisions. You don’t see racial divisions. And you don’t see religious differences. You don’t see the suffering or the injustice facing those back home on the planet. Instead you quickly realize that we on this planet, our planet Earth, are all in this together. I’ve been filled with wonder over some of the greatest scientific discoveries of our age, the discovery of signs of water and perhaps even life on Mars. The discovery that our galaxy is full of countless planets, many of them very possibly inhabitable and the discovery that our universe is being driven apart by mysterious forces known as dark energy and is filled with a mysterious material known as dark matter.
And I’ve grieved along with my fellow Americans as we tragically lost two spaceships and the brave astronauts aboard, and grieved as we have lost astronauts along the way and even before in the Apollo I fire. And I grieved with America as we thought Apollo 13 was lost and how miraculously in one of the greatest success stories of NASA, with three humans on the way to the moon when the explosion occurred, not having any idea how we could get them back, and the whole team of NASA came together.
The engineers, the mathematicians, the astronauts on the ground, the comptrollers, the contractors, and they all devised a way to bring back Jim Lovelle’s crew. As everyone in NASA’s family is keenly aware, navigating the heavens is as dangerous now, if not more so, than the crossing of the oceans was 100, 200, 300 years ago. And leaving the relative safety and comfort of home to explore new frontiers is every bit as important now as it was then. So we must proceed with caution lest we foolishly put the lives of explorers at risk, but we must also proceed with courage, lest we risk remaining stuck on the ground.
I’ve also had the honor of collaborating with heroes like John Glenn and Tom Stafford and Neil Armstrong on the future of our space program. And I’ve been very proud to have played a little part in the establishment of our thriving commercial space industry with the drafting and passage of the commercial space launch act back when I was a young congressman in 1984 and 1988 and witnessed the rise of and contributions of present day space entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and at the same time I appreciate the steady hand and transformative contribution of NASA leaders, like Charlie Bolden and Bill Girstenmier and Bob Cabanna. I can’t help but remember the guiding hand that was so strong of George Abby at the Johnson space center, and I’ve celebrated the long overdue emergence of female superstars, like Marilyn Hussein and Glen Shotwell among the space industry leadership.
In congress, it’s been a pleasure of working with a number of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance the space ambitions of our country because, as I’ve said many times before, space is and should always remain a nonpartisan issue. Nasa is a nonpartisan agency.
I’m also encouraged by NASA Administrator Bridenstine’s leadership at the early tenure at the helm of this agency and I wish him much success. I applaud him for continuing to make good on his promises to keep NASA out of partisan politics and to heed the advice of the agency’s talented and experienced space professionals and the scientists. NASA is a unique agency. The head of which is like the department of the — of defense. The secretary of defense is not looked upon as partisan. Neither is the administrator of NASA.
So, Mr. President, I could not be more gracious and humbled to be here today and to tell you that as we celebrate NASA’s 60th birthday this year, our space program has a spectacular and an exciting future. It’s a future full of opportunity, and it is a future that will require everyone — industry, congress, and the agency, as well as our international partners — pulling in the same together to make it a reality.
Go back a few years to 2010, senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, she and I recognized this back then that when we set NASA’s human spaceflight program on its current dual path to build private-sector capabilities in low-earth orbit and a government-led program for deep space and ultimately Mars, we recognized that out of some of the misdirection and lack of direction that the space program had had, you needed that direction.
And once Kay Bailey Hutchison and I passed that NASA authorization of 2010, that dual-path approach is now bearing fruit, including our recapturing of a majority of global commercial launch market, a market we had almost completely lost to overseas competitors. We’re also constructing the building blocks of the systems that will take us to Mars. The last administration, President Obama said we are going to Mars. And within a year we should have two different U.S. Vehicles safely transporting our astronauts to and from the international space station, which will allow us to increase the number of crew aboard the station and dramatically bolster our research there, and research that will ultimately help us on our journey to Mars with humans. And I remain confident that we will continue to operate the I.S.S. well past the middle of the next decade. As a matter of fact, Senator Cruz and I are still trying in this congress to get the date for extension of the international space station extended to the end of the decade.
It would be foolish to dispose of the orbital laboratory designated a national laboratory, which is our toehold on the space frontier, just as it is reaching the most productive period, and that’s what it’s doing in its research on orbit. But there’s still a lot more work to be done. We must focus our technology investments to ensure that the Mars journey is safe, productive, and affordable. We need a new propulsion system to get us to Mars faster. That is in the stages of research right now, and we must begin conducting human missions farther and farther from Earth. We must ensure that each activity gets us closer to achieving the goal that president Obama laid out in the decade of the 2030’s of boots on Mars. We also need to prepare workers for the high-tech, good-paying jobs of the 21st century.
It’s been one of my singular achievements to have worked with other leaders in government and industry to help bring about the dramatic modernization of the historic launch infrastructure at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. All of these exciting developments would not have been possible without the talent, dedication, and commitment of the thousands of workers who poured their hearts and soul into the space shuttle and the space station. That same dedication and pride of accomplishment continues today with the building of new spacecraft, like dragon, starliner, and owe — and Orion.
A few short years ago, remember, business at the cape was much different than it is today. Commercial launch companies were looking elsewhere to take their business, he is spite all of the — he is spite all of the available infrastructure — despite all of the available infrastructure and the work on the space coast. Too much bureaucracy stood in the way of progress. And so to address the problem, I conveniented the top leaders from the air force, NASA, and the F.A.A. In Chairman Rockefeller’s office, I brought an aerial photo of all the launch pads at the cape. I worked to bring these pads back to life.
And it’s just amazing from that photograph of all those abandoned launch pads, all of which the older generation will remember gave so much — so much inspiration to America in its early space days, abandoned and they are roaring back to life with launches and landings on those very same pads. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge, as I already had, Senator Cruz and his leadership, along with that of many of my colleagues here for joining in the fight to pass legislation to force the agencies to reduce the overlap and duplication in regulations. And I’m grateful to have worked with so many to pave the way for the exciting future that lies ahead for commercial space endeavors. I want to thank the appropriations committee. I want to thank the leadership of the appropriations committee, including the Senator here on the floor, the Senator from Vermont.
And the proof is in the pudding how over the years they have provided the appropriations as we have brought NASA back to life on this dual track of commercial going to and from low-earth orbit as well as exploring the heavens, which is NASA’s mission. And I can say proof is also in the pudding of the space launches coming back to life because Cape Canaveral hosted two-thirds of the nearly 30 American launches last year, and the day is fast approaching where we’ll see multiple launches in the same day as well as the largest, most powerful rocket ever assembled lifting off from the launch pad beginning our journey to Mars.
Quite simply, jobs and ingenuity are soaring because rockets are soaring. And as goes Florida’s space coast and the Houston area, so goes the U.S. Space industry as a whole. And as we continue to move forward, it’s also imperative that we continue our world-leading science and aeronautics activities.
NASA pursues the most challenging and endearing questions facing humanity — how does life come to exist? Are we alone? What is to become of us and our planet? Engaging and empowering the U.S. Science community should remain a top, enabling us to — a top priority, enabling us to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers. Mr. President, history has shown us that the nations that cease to explore begin to decline and collapse. It is our very nature as Americans to explore. Would humanity still exist if humans had not spread from Africa to Asia to Europe, the Americas and eventually to the remote reaches of the arctic and isolated islands of Polynesia? Would we as a nation have fulfilled our destiny we did not push our frontier forward? I think not. Will humanity still exist far in the future if we chose to stop exploring now? And the cosmos offers us limitless opportunities to expand, not just to survive but to thrive. Imagine the first baby girl or boy born away from planet Earth. Imagine the first artist to paint a sunset on Mars. Imagine our so similar system inhabited by 100 billion dreamers, innovators and creators.
Imagine a future where those people, perhaps the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those in primary school today, look back on our era as the time when humanity began to journey outward. And I believe that, as we discover and experience the wonders of the cosmos, we will achieve the greatest outcome of all — we will find that our home planet, Earth, and all of life and love that inhabits us, has become even more beautiful and all the more precious to us.
Mr. President, with that, I say resoundingly, on-ward and upward. And as the command given from the ground after the space shuttle has passed through maximum dynamic pressure, as the main engines have throttled back and the shuttle has ascended into the atmosphere and the mission can press forward to orbit, the command is given — go at throttle out.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.