Nasa’s Budgetby Senator Bill Nelson
Posted on 2015-12-16
NELSON. Mr. President, we are going back into space with
Americans on American rockets, and we are going to Mars. We are on the
cusp of the next big breakthrough in space exploration.
It is interesting that this is at the very time that in our culture here on Earth, the movie that is harkening back--``Star Wars''--is coming out again, and it is going to be such a blockbuster at the box office. What is fictional in ``Star Trek'' and ``Star Wars'' is now becoming factual.
In large part, it is what has been done in the Nation's space program since the shutdown of the space shuttle back in 2011 and in the preparation of the new vehicles--the new rockets, the new spacecraft, the new satellites, the new exploratory missions that have gone on.
Who among us, merely three decades ago, would have thought the Hubble Space Telescope would look back into the far reaches of the universe-- close to the beginning of that universe--and start to unlock secrets through this telescope that is orbiting the Earth that was put up by humans in the U.S. space shuttle? Who among us would believe that we now are going to launch a telescope in 2018 that will look back in time to the very beginning of the source of light in the universe--the big bang--and understand this universe all the more and how it evolved in this magnificent creation that we earthlings observe of the heavens? Who among us, over four decades ago when we landed on the Moon, were not impatient to escape the bounds of Earth's gravity once again to get out and explore the heavens? That is now becoming a reality. It is becoming a reality in large part because of the budget that will be presented to the Congress, which we will pass--an appropriation that just in this present fiscal year that we find ourselves in right now will increase NASA's budget $1.3 billion over what NASA was appropriated last year. Getting Americans and American rockets back into space, since we haven't had Americans on American rockets since we shut down the space shuttle, had to be done. That was an essentially extraordinary creative flying machine, but its design had inherent flaws that were risky for human beings. Indeed, in over 135 flights of the space shuttle, we lost two crews--14 souls--because of its design. There was a malfunction where there was no escaping for the crew. But now we have new rockets that will have the crew in a capsule on the top of the rocket so that if there is an explosion on the pad, an explosion in ascent all the way into orbit, we can still save the crew because we can separate them by the escape rockets from the main vehicle and save the crew, ultimately having them land or by parachute--powered landing or a parachute landing.
These rockets are almost ready to fly. Indeed, some of them have been flying for quite a while. Two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, will have the spacecraft. SpaceX, its capsule and spacecraft called Dragon, is sitting on top of a rocket that has flown many times called the Falcon 9. Boeing, with a spacecraft called the Starliner, will sit upon the very proven Atlas V. Which one will fly first? We do not know. But the fact is that is only 2 years away--2017. They will fly with the first crews to and from the space station so that we no longer have to rely upon a very reliable partner that indeed helped us build the International Space Station to which we go and return not only with crew but with cargo as well. We won't have to rely on the Soyuz anymore. We will be flying on American rockets. That is going to happen in a short 2 years.
The assurance of that is this. It is the Omnibus appropriations bill that is coming forth that has appropriated the amount NASA needs to keep this competition between SpaceX and Boeing going for developing, hopefully, two spacecraft that will be launching Americans on American rockets to and from our International Space Station.
By the way, we have six human beings on the space station. It is an international crew. They are doing all kinds of experiments. At another time and another day, I can tell my colleagues about some of those exciting things.
We are going to Mars. We are going to Mars because we are developing a spacecraft called Orion that we have already test-flown out to 3,600 miles to check its structural integrity on a ballistic reentry. That was done a year ago. Now we are building the largest, most powerful rocket ever on Earth, called the Space Launch System, or SLS. Orion and SLS have also been given a boost in this appropriations bill. So we are well on our way for the first test of this full-up rocket with capsule in September of 2018. That is less than 3 years away, with the first crewed vehicle after the first test in 2021.
That is the forerunner to building the spacecraft and the technologies that can take human beings and keep them alive all the way from Earth to Mars, land on Mars, stay on Mars for a while, and return safely to the Earth. ``Star Wars,'' ``Star Trek,'' is fiction. It is exciting, but it's fiction. This is space fact. It is happening in front of our eyes.
Now, there are other things that are happening with this appropriations bill. We think, in this solar system, if there is a chance for life besides Mars, or life that was there and we want to know what happened--there is a moon around Jupiter called Europa. Europa is so cold that it has an exterior that is ice. But the gravitational pull of Jupiter, as Europa goes around and around Jupiter, is such that it causes the friction from an inner core that already has heat and heats up from the inside. So under this crust of ice on Europa is water. In our experience as earthlings, wherever we have found water, we have found life. So is not Europa one of the best chances of there being life as we understand it in those oceans? It is a smaller body than Earth--Europa--and yet has oceans that are twice the volume of the oceans on planet Earth. That is a real possibility.
So in this appropriations bill, there is $1.6 billion to proceed on a plan for taking us to Europa to see if there is other life in our solar system.
There is also something that is very important to us earthlings, and that is that we need to know what is happening to the planet and we need to be able to predict and we need to be able to foretell, because if a big storm is coming here, we want precise measurements to let us, bound on the face of terra firma, know what is that storm that is coming and what are the weather conditions. That accuracy is so important for us in our daily lives here on Earth, not even to speak of our national security.
You could go through the rest of the NASA budget and you can see that it indeed sets us on a course for extraordinary space exploration as well as taking care of the aeronautical research, which is the other ``A'' in NASA--aeronautics. That has a plus-up from the President's request--aeronautics--giving all the research on the technology to make sure that our aviation industry is at the absolute cutting edge.
We are going to Mars, and we are beginning this journey as we did with the [[Page S8702]] test of the spacecraft a year ago. That journey is going to accelerate, and in the lifetimes of many of those within the sound of my voice, they will witness a human crew of Americans and possibly an international crew that will go all the way to the planet Mars and return. Indeed what was science fiction based on science facts--the Matt Damon movie ``The Martian''--really is right within our grasp. It is an exciting time as we bring our space exploration back to life so that the American people can see that there is a viable space program and that we have a goal and that goal is the planet Mars.