A picture of Senator Bill Nelson
Bill N.
Democrat FL

About Sen. Bill
  • Mission to Mars and Space Shuttle Flight 30Th Anniversary

    by Senator Bill Nelson

    Posted on 2016-01-12

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    NELSON. Mr. President, we are going to Mars--Mars or bust. We are going to send a human crew to Mars in the decade of the 2030s. We are right at the cusp of the breakthrough to show how this is possible. I have just returned from the Kennedy Space Center, meeting with its Director, Bob Cabana. All of the ground infrastructure--the two launch pads--are being reconfigured. Old abandoned launch pads on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are being redone with new commercial launch pads.

    Less than 2 years from right now, in September of 2017, we will be launching Americans again on American rockets to go to and from the International Space Station. Three years from now, we will be launching the full-up test of the largest and most powerful rocket ever invented by mankind, the Space Launch System, with its spacecraft Orion, which will be the forerunner that will ultimately take us to Mars.

    This appropriations bill that we passed just before Christmas treats NASA with a decent increase of over $1 billion and puts the resources into each part of NASA--its scientific programs, its technology programs, its exploration programs, its aviation, and especially aviation research programs--to keep us moving forward in our development of technology.

    I am especially enthusiastic about bringing this message because 30 years ago today, I had the privilege of launching on the 24th flight of the space shuttle into the heavens for a 6-day mission. Let me tell you about some of the members of this crew, just to give you an idea of how accomplished these people are.

    In NASA terminology in the space shuttle, the commander sits on the left seat; on the right seat, his pilot--in effect, his copilot. He handles all of the systems. In almost all cases, those pilot astronauts are military test pilots. They are so good that when they land that space shuttle without an engine, they have one chance; they are so good they can put it on a dime.

    Of course, our crew, 30 years ago launching from pad 39-A--the same pad that I saw on Saturday that has now been transformed into a commercial launch pad under lease to SpaceX--that crew was the best of the best. The two pilot astronauts were naval aviators. In the left seat was CDR Hoot Gibson--Robert Gibson, the best stick-and-rudder guy in the whole astronaut office. He could put it down, and you would hardly know that the wheels had touched.

    In the right seat, then Marine colonel, now Marine general, retired, Charlie Bolden, who then went on to command three missions thereafter, and today is--for the last 7 years--the Administrator of NASA. He is the one who has transformed NASA and has us going in the right direction now to go to Mars and at the same time working out the arrangements for the commercial marketplace to flourish, as we are seeing with Boeing and SpaceX, which will be the two rockets that will launch in less than 2 years, taking Americans to and from the International Space Station.

    Let me tell you about the rest of the crew that launched 30 years ago today. The flight engineer, Steve Hawley, an astrophysicist. By the way, he is the one who deployed for the first time the Hubble Space Telescope. An astrophysicist, Dr. George ``Pinky'' Nelson. By the way, all of these guys are doctors. They are Ph.D.s. Also, Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, an astronaut who came to America from Costa Rica--not speaking a word of English after high school and taught himself English. He has a Ph.D. in plasma physics from MIT. While he was still flying, seven times as an astronaut, he was building a plasma rocket. Today that plasma rocket is one of the propulsion systems that NASA is considering when we go to Mars. If you saw the Matt Damon movie, ``The Martian,'' the author of the book had consulted with Franklin about the technology that is referenced in the book as the propulsion that sent that spacecraft to and from Mars. Another is engineer Bob Cenker, an RCA engineer. We launched an RCA communications satellite in the course of the mission.

    The seventh is yours truly. I performed 12 medical experiments, the primary of which was a protein crystal growth experiment in zero-g, sponsored by the medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham--their comprehensive cancer center. The theory was if you could grow protein crystals--and out of the influence of gravity--then you could grow them larger and more pure, so when you brought them back to Earth, examining them either through x-ray defraction or an electron microscope, you could unlock the secrets of their architecture and get the molecular structure.

    I also performed the first American stress test in space in an unmechanized treadmill. You wonder how in zero-g you can propel yourself running on a treadmill. I had to put on a harness with bungee cords that would force me down onto the treadmill, and I pulled and pushed with my feet. We were trying to see what happens to our astronauts who go outside on spacewalks. Their hearts would start skipping beats. So the idea was to get the heart rate up and use me as a comparison.

    Indeed, what happened was I ran for 20 minutes, pulling and pushing. Lo and behold I discovered that the tape recorder was not working and had to repeat it. It made so much racket in that small confined space that our crew was mighty happy when I finished. Thus, the space doctors had additional data to study, and they have published that. We thought it was the first stress test in space, but later on we found out that the Soviets had done stress tests--we don't know how long.

    [[Page S46]] On this occasion, 30 years later, of something that was transformative to me, I wish to say I am so optimistic of where we are going because we are going to Mars. If you ask the average American on the street, they think the space program is shut down because they visualize it as the shutting down of the space shuttle, but they will be reminded, reenergized, enthused and excited--as only human space flight can do--when those rockets start lifting off at the Cape in September of 2017, in less than 2 years, and we are beginning on our way to Mars.

    I thank the Presiding Officer for this opportunity on this 30th anniversary.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Pennsylvania.


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