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Opening Statement By Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: Hearing on Enhancing the Relevance of Space to Address National Needs

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009

image Good afternoon. I'm pleased to welcome everyone to today's hearing on this the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.

There are a whole series of commemorative events planned for this week and next, and it is clear that Apollo is still considered one of the most significant achievements of the U.S. space program--and deservedly so. Yet, I didn't convene today's hearing to engage an exercise in nostalgia for past glories.

It's of course fitting that we pause to honor those who blazed the trail that leads out beyond low Earth orbit--both the brave astronauts who undertook those hazardous expeditions to the Moon and the countless individuals and organizations who enabled those expeditions to succeed.

Yet, by definition our civil space program is about the future--not the past.

And if our space program is to have a sustainable and productive future, it is also about relevance.

That is, America's civil space program must be relevant to our broad national needs if it is going to continue to be supported.

I believe that our space program is relevant to those national needs, and I was pleased to see that a distinguished panel of the National Academies came to the same conclusion when they undertook a high level review of the U.S. civil space program.

We are fortunate to have the chair of that panel, Gen. Lester Lyles, as a witness at today's hearing to share the insights that he gained from that review.

In addition, Ms. Patti Grace Smith of the Space Foundation will provide an additional perspective on the impacts that space has on our daily lives.

Yet as the National Academies review, the Space Foundation's annual report, and the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 all make clear, we can and should do more to enhance the relevance of the civil space program so that it can continue to be an important contributor to the nation's strength and well-being in the years and decades to come.

By that I don't mean that NASA and our space program should just be about "spinoffs", as important as past ones have been to our economy and our society.

Instead what I'm saying is that our space program is important to American scientifically, technologically, economically, and geopolitically, and we should recognize and nurture that reality so that we can maximize the benefits we accrue from America's space program in the future.

I think the National Academies panel put it well:

"...A preeminent U.S. civil space program with strengths and capabilities aligned for tackling widely acknowledged national challenges--environmental, economic, and strategic--is a national imperative today, and will continue to grow in importance in the future."

That is an imperative that both Congress and the White House will need to come to grips with if we are to have a productive future in space exploration.

Yet, that is only half of the equation. You've all heard the old conundrum: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it..." Well, we face a similar conundrum with our civil space program.

If we have an incredibly exciting and relevant space program, but the American people don't really know about it, is it really that relevant?

In that regard, I hope that our two other witnesses, long-time space journalist Mr. Miles O'Brien and the Science Channel's Ms. Debbie Adler Myers will be able to help this subcommittee grapple with the question of how to better communicate the importance of space to the general public.

Because it's not an academic exercise--our space program is incredibly important to this country's future well being, but we can't assume the public will just take that assertion on faith.

We need to be able to demonstrate it.

Today's hearing is a first step, and I can think of no better way to honor the achievements of those who led America to the Moon and created a space program that has been the envy of the world.

In closing, I again want to welcome our witnesses to today's hearing, and I will now recognize Mr. Olson for any opening statement he may care to make.

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