Space-based technologies benefit Earth

In 1962, at the very field where the game was held, President Kennedy challenged our nation to send a man to the moon. This past summer we celebrated the 40th anniversary of that achievement. Aside from the Apollo 80th anniversary, what will we be celebrating 40 years from now in regard to human space exploration? This is a question that needs to be asked within the administration and within the halls of Congress, but it should not stop there. It is one that should be contemplated in the scientific community, in our educational institutions, throughout industry, and most importantly by the American public.

The Apollo program served as an impetus not just for our nation’s exploration objective set forth by President Kennedy, but also our economy, by providing thousands of good-paying jobs, creating new industries, inventing spinoffs, many which would later be used in ways that never could have been imagined when they were invented, and inspiring a generation of students to study science and engineering.
The Apollo program ended decades ago, but just last week NASA slammed a satellite into the moon’s surface in the search for water. To me, the mission should teach us two things. First is the obvious — is there water on the moon? But secondly, and what should not be lost, is to reinforce to us that there is a lot we still do not know about the moon. Imagine if Columbus upon discovering the New World had just picked up a couple of rocks, then went back to Spain never to return?
Human space flight serves as an inspirational asset to our nation, but we must not forget, and most importantly must foster an environment, in which it is a technological asset as well. In the areas of remote-sensing, position and navigating, and communications, the aerospace industry has provided countless products that we use every day to help us defend our nation, provide high quality healthcare, and even to assist us on our commute to work. There are benefits on Earth that we receive from space.
During these times of economic challenge, the aerospace industry can provide technical, highly skilled, and good-paying jobs, particularly for engineers and scientists. The American scientific community needs to reassert itself as the global leader in research and development. We need to make the investments that produce the ideas, the products, and the people that will cure diseases, improve our transportation systems, and create new and innovative ways to use energy for our nation’s power needs. Our nation’s space program can be a partner in achieving these worthwhile objectives, because, in the words of President Kennedy that day at Rice, “Our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment.”

Olson is a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology and chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.