Independence Plaza Honors America’s Space Programby Representative Pete Olson
Posted on 2016-01-12
OLSON. Mr. Speaker, in the summer of 1972, my dad was transferred
from northwest Alabama to southeast Texas. I remember the first time I
got off the Gulf Freeway, headed east down NASA Road 1, and saw the
Johnson Space Center and the Nassau Bay resort hotel with an NBC studio
on top. Right then, it hit me: my neighbors were astronauts, Moon
walkers. My life was changed forever.
The next 9 years were rather dull. Three missions of Skylab and one handshake with the Russians on Apollo-Soyuz.
The excitement came back in 1981. The Space Shuttle Columbia flew for the first time. The space shuttle was the heart and soul of human spaceflight until July 21, 2011, when three words ended the program: ``Houston, wheels stop.'' Those words were heard in the dark, 4:57 a.m. Texas time. My home was dark for 4\1/2\ years. That darkness will end on January 23 when Space Center Houston opens Independence Plaza right by the Johnson Space Center. Independence Plaza will have the Space Shuttle Independence atop the 747 transport carrier.
Our space shuttles flew 133 successful flights, with crews as small as two or as large as seven, with 55,000 pounds of payload. Our shuttles carried astronauts from 17 nations: Belgium, Canada, France, Israel, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, and America.
Our shuttle built the International Space Station, which has had a human being on board since November 2, 2000. Scott Kelly has been on board the ISS since March 27, 2015. Scott must love the view because he will come home after 1 year in orbit.
The Hubble Space Telescope would have been the biggest piece of space junk ever without the space shuttle. When it was launched in 1990, it was a telescope that needed glasses. Its vision was blurry. Five shuttle missions followed, fixed its vision, gave it decades of new life, and changed history.
But Independence Plaza will do more than remind us of the achievements of our space shuttle. This exhibit will ensure we never forget the two crews we lost on space shuttles. Dick, Michael, Judy, Ron, Ellison, Greg, and Christa touched the face of God when Challenger exploded after 73 seconds of flight on January 28, 1986. Eighteen years later, on February 1, 2003, we lost Rick, Willie, Michael, Kalpana, David, Laurel, and Ilan when Columbia returned mortally wounded and broke up over their home, my home State of Texas. Independence Plaza will ensure that these 14 heroes will always be revered, and a new, young generation of Americans will follow their lead and soar into the heavens.