On Friday, the last of the shuttles, Atlantis, made its final voyage into space. The end of the space shuttle era is a bittersweet moment. It has been the star in America’s space program for three decades, giving us the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station. It has established American preeminence and enabled us to do what no other nation could. 

We are now at a crossroads. Long pioneers in spaceflight, the United States faces the possibility of depending on foreign nations for the superior technologies that space access provides. Yet, the United States can and must remain the international leader in space exploration, particularly in the area of human spaceflight. NASA is a reflection of American exceptionalism, setting America apart technologically, scientifically and economically.

It is crucial in the days ahead that NASA and White House leaders move forward with the heavy-lift space launch system. The United States Congress is disappointed with delays in this vital program. Now is the right time for NASA to follow the guidance provided in the FY 2010 NASA Authorization Act and the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution. The space launch system, built in conjunction with the core stage and the upper stage of a 130 metric ton rocket, is critical for NASA to maintain the heavy-lift capability required for these important missions. 

Atlantis’ final flight is an opportunity to look forward, not back. The next phase of our journey into space holds untold potential. From the Lewis and Clark expedition in the time of Thomas Jefferson, to the Moon landing of our own day, exploration has led to discovery, innovation and American exceptionalism. America must keep NASA and its central mission of human spaceflight strong. We must continue to expand the human horizon and, by doing so, we will ensure America’s continued leadership in space and in the world.

Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksRepublicans express doubts that Ryan can stay on as Speaker Top GOP lawmakers jockeying to replace Ryan if he steps down: report 25 House Republicans defy leadership in key spending bill vote MORE is a member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.