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Nelson Calls for Unspent Stimulus Money to Boost NASA

Press Release From: Sen. Bill Nelson
Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2009

image WASHINGTON, D.C. - The only serving U.S. senator to have flown in space today called on President Obama to use $3 billion of unspent stimulus money to help prevent the continued shrinking of America's space program.

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor - coming just days before a special commission reviewing NASA and the nation's space program is expected to deliver its final report to Obama. In so doing, he joined a delegation of Texas lawmakers who also are asking for stimulus money for NASA.

"Currently, our space program is funded at less than one-percent of the total federal budget," Nelson said. "Yet our space program has always paid back dividends, both tangible and intangible, which are vastly greater than the initial investment.

"The additional funding for NASA I am supporting will ensure the U.S. remains the vanguard for the peaceful use of technology for the betterment of mankind," Nelson said "So I'm asking the president to divert $3 billion to NASA from the unspent portion of the $787 billion in economic stimulus recovery money."

The White House so far has refrained from commenting on any such proposals, until it receives the final report from the Augustine Commission that's reviewing the future of America's space program.

Last month, the commission released a summary of the findings from its final report. The report, which will be delivered later this month, says the U.S. human spaceflight program that has made America a world leader in science and technology "appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory." Specifically, the report says, "our space program is being asked to pursue goals without the appropriately allocated resources."

Said Nelson, "A suitably funded space program is the best catalyzing element to gather and organize the energies and abilities of this nation. In return, this program will pay many dividends, perhaps the most important of which is to inspire, encourage, and motivate this next generation of Americans."

Following is the text of Nelson's prepared remarks:

Bill Nelson's
Floor statement re NASA funding
Oct. 8, 2009

Mr. President, our nation today stands at a crossroads. We find ourselves with the opportunity to strengthen and advance our leadership in the world, or to stand by and allow what has become a hallmark of U.S. leadership to slip by the wayside.

Last month the Augustine commission released a summary of the findings from its final report on our nation's space program.

The report, which will be delivered later this month, says the U.S. human spaceflight program that has made America a world leader in science and technology "appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory."

Specifically, the report says, "our space program is being asked to pursue goals without the appropriately allocated resources."

So we as a nation stand at a crossroads with a stark choice before us: we can continue on the path we are on, under-funding and under-allocating our space program, or we can choose to act. We can choose to act by ensuring the appropriate resources are allocated to meet the goals laid out before us.
The Augustine Commission was abundantly clear.

It said that - while the current path we are on is unsustainable - "meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget" - with an additional $3 billion per year.

Even though we face uncertain economic times, the challenge of finding that additional money is one we cannot afford to ignore.

Today I loudly echo the request of my Senate colleagues Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. I am asking the president to divert $3 billion to NASA from the unspent portion of the $787 billion in economic stimulus recovery money.

My staff also has identified other possible revenue sources for future years.

But no matter how much we find by scraping the barrel, it's still going to come down to one thing: the president - like John Kennedy before him - must commit to a space program that will keep America a global leader in science and technology.

Currently, our space program is funded at less than one percent of the total federal budget. Yet our space program has always paid back dividends, both tangible and intangible, which are vastly greater than the initial investment.

The additional funding for NASA I am supporting will ensure the U.S. remains the vanguard for the peaceful use of technology for the betterment of mankind.

But of singular importance, this commitment will help to inspire the next generation of explorers - And the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians, and educators.
It is this payoff which is Apollo's greatest and lasting legacy. We have a similar opportunity in front of us.

The Augustine Commission notes that the time may finally be upon us when commercial space companies can begin to carry some of the burden of our access to space. Many of these companies are already developing capabilities to enable the commercial resupply of the International Space Station.

This ability, according to Augustine, is critical to ensuring our ability to operate the Station beyond 2016 and to maximize the return on what has become a substantial investment.

But these commercial endeavors serve another equally important function: they create whole new industries, and with that, new jobs for Americans.

Opening up to the private sector what has historically been limited to the realm of the government will enable economic growth, stimulus, and prosperity for many Americans.

The International Space Station has proven to us that many nations can work together on enormous endeavors in a peaceful fashion. The Station is at its dawn, and the many economic, scientific, and social payoffs from our investments are soon to be realized.

But the international partnerships formed during the design, construction, and operation of Station have proven one thing: the world looks to the United States for leadership in space.

Many of the world's nations are patiently waiting to see which direction the United States chooses. At the same time, these many nations are prepared to follow the U.S. lead in the form of additional commitments and resources in space.

To turn our backs on space at this moment would have negative effects which would reverberate around the world.

Last night, the president hosted several young people at the White House for a star-gazing party. These young people had the opportunity to the view in vivid detail craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn, the colors of the planet Jupiter, and the belt of the Milky Way, many for the very first time.

The wonderment displayed by these children, and many of the adults as well, prove once again that space inspires.

And if all goes well tomorrow morning, America will successfully plow a rocket into the moon to help determine conclusively whether large quantities of water can be found just beneath the lunar surface.

Imagine: this mission may reveal new knowledge about a source for water for astronauts of the future - and, fuel for their rockets to explore the cosmos.

A suitably funded space program is the best catalyzing element to gather and organize the energies and abilities of this nation. In return, this program will pay many dividends, perhaps the most important of which is to inspire, encourage, and motivate this next generation of Americans.
Mr. President, I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting the increased funding of NASA and of this nation's space program. I yield the floor.

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