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Opening Statement By Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords

Press Release From: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

image Good morning, and welcome to the Subcommittee's first hearing of the 2nd session. We had a very active Subcommittee last session, and I expect to be at least as busy this year as we carry out our oversight responsibilities. In that regard, I have called this morning's hearing so that we may have a chance to hear early on from NASA's "watchdogs"--the NASA Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and the independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

As Congress prepares to reauthorize NASA, it is important that we focus on the issues and challenges that will determine whether or not NASA succeeds or fails in the coming decade. The three individuals testifying before us today can provide us with the kind of expert, objective assessments that we will need to inform our deliberations over NASA's future, and I look forward to their testimony.

As you know, the president's Fiscal Year 2011 budget request was delivered to the Hill on Monday. It proposes large changes to NASA programs, including the outright cancellation of Constellation. Today's hearing is not intended to be an examination of that request, in part because many of the details are still unavailable. However, I can assure you that the full Science and Technology Committee and this Subcommittee will be holding a series of hearings over the coming weeks to examine the president's proposals, and we intend to give them serious scrutiny. One of the reasons I was particularly honored to accept the chairmanship of this subcommittee was my excitement to be involved in an agency that has inspired Americans, and the world at large, for decades.

But as I reviewed the President's budget request, I found a quite glaring omission. I would once again point all of you in this chamber to the proverb written on the wall behind me. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." These words are as true today as when our forefathers undertook a voyage of discovery, when they landed on this continent and founded America as a city upon a hill, a beacon of light for the whole world to admire. We are still that city upon a hill and the eyes of all people are upon us.

We have set forth on a mission to explore the heavens and should we deal falsely with this work we have undertaken, we shall be made a byword across the world. We shall shame the faces of many of America's worthy civil servants who have dedicated their lives to this mission. Today we are still that city upon a hill, but I fear that we may soon abandon our vision. Our job as servants of the people, as members of this committee is to allow our scientists, our engineers and researchers, our visionaries to be as bold in this undertaking as their faculties allow. To be unconstrained by artificial impositions of expedience or purse, but rather limited only by the strength of their imagination and the immutability of the laws of physics. My concern today is not numbers on a ledger, but rather the fate of the American dream to reach for the stars. Should we falter, should we slip, should we let our dream fade, what will we tell our children? How will we inspire the next generation of great minds to pursue the science and engineering fields critical to our competitiveness in the 21st century when we abandon a generation of thousands of aerospace engineers in the middle of this endeavor? What will we tell the world that we led into space, that we took to the moon? My fear is that we will tell them, "Tell us what the stars are like, when you get there."

In the coming weeks we will be holding a number of hearings both in this subcommittee and the full committee to address the range of NASA programs and responsibilities in science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight. We will discuss the potential impact of program changes on tens of thousands of jobs, precisely the type of high tech jobs that are critical to our economic competitiveness. We will discuss the impact that NASA programs, especially those in human space exploration, play in inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM fields, another issue vital to developing a workforce for the 21st century. Both of these issues will be especially timely as the full committee considers reauthorization of America COMPETES legislation.

And I, in my work on the House Armed Services Committee, will be diving into the impact that proposed cuts to human spaceflight will have on our aerospace industry and our national defense.

No doubt we will have a great deal to assess in the coming weeks. The testimony we hear today will likely raise additional issues that we will need to consider.

In closing, I would like to tell a story that illustrates my concern. Nearly 100 years before Columbus sailed to the Americas, China had a great fleet of ships traveling throughout the Indian Ocean. This fleet was ahead of its time, exploring the seas and spurring an unprecedented era of knowledge, trade, and discovery. However, as times changed, China felt that it could no longer afford its fleet, and so it was defunded. The fleet soon fell to ruin, with some historians reporting that the ships were burned and destroyed, and so ended a great opportunity for the Chinese people. Had the Chinese continued to fund this endeavor of exploration, of discovery, the world might now be a very different place. How ironic then that today we consider abandoning our space worthy vessels, ending a half century of American leadership in space exploration just as the Chinese ramp up their own space program and aim for the moon.

NASA is an agency with a range of programs and responsibilities in science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight--and we need to make sure that the agency is proceeding as effectively as possible to carry out its diverse missions. Today's hearing will help us to assess how NASA is doing in that regard. I look forward to working with Members on both sides of the aisle as we strive to ensure that Congress crafts the most responsible and productive future for the nation's space and aeronautics programs. The stakes for America are too high for us to attempt anything less.

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