- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

The tragic loss of seven brave astronauts and the space shuttle Columbia will forever serve as a reminder of the risks that we face in the human exploration and development of space. We will always remember the crew of Columbia and their mission to improve our world for all humankind. The investigation into the technical cause and contributing factors is now complete and will provide our nation with a framework for returning our astronauts to space more safely than ever before. A great new challenge is now being placed before the space agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves our nation’s support more than ever.

NASA has already begun the process of transformation and renewal. Since Sean O’Keefe became NASA administrator, the agency has rallied around a unifying vision for itself and the future. Even before the accident, significant changes were being made to improve management processes and overall efficiency according to the president’s management agenda. Mr. O’Keefe’s “One NASA” initiative emphasizes a commitment to teamwork, tools and capabilities for greater collaboration across the agency, pushing a bow wave of cultural change.

Since the advent of human space flight just more than 40 years ago, NASA has pursued its mission in a world of high expectations and changing national priorities. In the wake of setbacks that are a tragic yet inevitable part of human exploration, NASA has time and again emerged with a vision and resolve to further expand the boundaries of human knowledge and experience with leadership, creativity and determination.

Following the loss of three brave souls who perished in their capsule on the launch pad in the Apollo 1 fire, the agency looked deep into its culture and technical practices and applied the lessons learned to keep our nation on a bold course to the Moon, achieving one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of human exploration.

When the loss of the Challenger shook the agency and our nation to its roots, NASA emerged with a safer, more capable program and a driving vision to achieve a permanent human presence in space. As a result, our knowledge of the effects of micro-gravity on the human body and our expertise in medical research, materials processing, global mapping and our climate have expanded exponentially. That mission continues, today, aboard the International Space Station.

In a time of tight funding, NASA has continued a broad program of scientific and technological developments, providing data about our planet and making new scientific discoveries about our universe. The Hubble Space Telescope is the most heralded scientific tool of our lifetime. In its 13 years of observing the universe, the space telescope has accounted for a third of all new scientific discoveries.

In a time of great global tension, NASA has enhanced our country’s image as an effective world leader, bringing together 16 nations in unprecedented technical cooperation to assemble and utilize the International Space Station. NASA was among the first to extend a hand in peaceful cooperation to Russia as it began its transition to democracy and become a valued partner in the world community.

NASA and its missions have provided us with inspiration for more than 40 years. While less than 1 percent of the total national budget goes to the civilian space program, its programs have returned technological benefits that have had a positive impact on every aspect of our lives and given American taxpayers an unmatchable return on their investment.

The Columbia tragedy has already sparked much discussion and debate about the space shuttle, the International Space Station and human space flight itself. And that’s fine. Our great nation thrives on the power of debate. In the end, our resolve to explore space will be strengthened, and we will go forward, better and safer than we have before.

NASA is demonstrating the leadership, commitment and resolve needed to return our nation to safe flight with renewed focus and a sense of purpose. For these reasons, and many more, NASA deserves our support.

E.J. “Jake” Garn is a former Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Utah. He served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy and Utah National Guard, and flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985.

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