- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Today, members of a key Senate Appropriations subcommittee are poised to slash NASA’s budget and undermine President Bush’s historic vision for space exploration. Such a move could have devastating consequences for the future of America’s technology workforce and squander a tremendous opportunity to create new, good-paying jobs in high-tech industries.

President Bush’s national “Vision for Space Exploration” — the boldest, most comprehensive vision since President Kennedy challenged the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade — is a balanced and cost-effective initiative to explore the moon, Mars and points beyond. It would help establish and nurture a whole new generation of highly skilled technology workers who are critical to America’s global economic competitiveness and create thousands of new jobs.

President Kennedy’s vision in the 1960s — and strong congressional support of NASA and the space program in the ensuing years — helped produce a “pipeline” of technological talent for the private-sector workforce in the form of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Early U.S. space programs energized Americans, enabling the federal government to invest in new technologies and industries, recruit the best young minds and exploit the scientific and economic benefits of space. These programs also provided the underpinning for a robust industrial base that led to U.S.-industry dominance of the global high technology marketplace.

For the past 40 years, NASA scientists and engineers helped create entire new industries and transferred more than 10,000 NASA-developed technologies to the private sector. Nearly every U.S. industry has benefited from NASA discoveries, especially key industrial sectors such as transportation, public safety and health and medicine. GPS (Global Positioning System), smoke detectors and special biopsy needles are just a few examples of real-world applications of NASA-developed technologies. Clearly, Americans have gotten a huge return on their modest investment in our space program. It vindicates those who bravely and painstakingly pursued a vision that skeptics once called unaffordable, foolhardy and wasteful.

Even as America’s high-tech workforce is aging — in the aerospace sector alone, more than 27 percent of workers are expected to retire by 2008 — and our nation’s global competitiveness hangs in the balance, the naysayers are at it again, dismissing the president’s plan as too expensive and unimportant. Their voices must not prevail.

Instead of gutting NASA’s budget and discarding the president’s bold plan, Congress should seize the opportunity to make an investment in our economic and technological future. NASA’s fiscal year 2005 budget will be the first spending plan to have a direct impact on the Vision for Space Exploration. It is essential that Congress provide NASA its full funding request so that the President’s vision can become reality.

If Congress wants a surefire way to maintain America’s lead in the global economy, create great new jobs and inspire a generation, it should simply look to the stars.

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation.

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