- - Monday, April 9, 2012

On April 1, “60 Minutes” ran a story about the job loss in Florida’s Space Coast caused by the dismantling of the human-space-flight program. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of countless times I visited the Johnson Space Center as a member of Congress.

While I toured the facility and met with constituents throughout the surrounding community, I always was struck by the absolute pride everyone took in the space program - from the janitor sweeping the floor to the tour guide at Space Center Houston to the flight director in Mission Control. From the engineers to the astronauts, they all spoke with pride about how they helped put man into space.

Their comments made a tremendous impact on me, and I’ve never forgotten it. I was humbled by the pride in their work and in the greater mission their efforts supported. I was also filled with pride myself, thinking that as Americans, we can all find honor in the remarkable achievements of NASA.

The space shuttle probably was the greatest technological advancement the world has ever seen. Similarly, the International Space Station is an incredible testament to the collaborative global effort that can be undertaken only with the strong, courageous leadership of the United States.

This is why, after viewing the report, first I felt deeply saddened. Then I felt anger.

As one of the interviewed former employees said, “It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to end this like this.”

When I left Congress, there was a plan in place to chart the next course forward. Following the shuttle’s retirement, America would embark on a bold mission to explore the moon and, ultimately, Mars. The administration threw away the plan - and the $9 billion investment already made.

The absolute lack of understanding of the importance of human space flight that this administration demonstrates is mind-numbing.

The issue isn’t just jobs, although, of course, in this economy, every job is precious.

It isn’t just the heartbreaking personal stories of local businesses and communities destroyed.

It isn’t even only about America being No. 1 in the world and the national pride that goes with knowing America is still able to accomplish greatness.

I even would go so far as to say it isn’t even entirely about national security and the need for maintaining our industrial base, knowing full well that China, Russia and others are advancing in the space arena at a rapid pace. Of course, our national defense should be a driving consideration.

But it’s much more intrinsic than all that. The ultimate issue at stake in space is the need for the human race to explore.

There is something innate in humanity that calls us to take on unfathomable risk in search of discovery.

I fully believe our Creator planted within us insatiable curiosity, intelligence, ingenuity and the ability to dream for a reason. We simply were not meant to sit still and contemplate the universe around us. We are called to explore it. And as we do so, the other pieces fall into place - national security, inspiring our young, a healthier economy, technological advancement and global leadership in space.

Not mentioned in the “60 Minutes” piece was the work going on in Huntsville, Ala., Houston and Florida’s Space Coast to develop a capsule and heavy-lift rocket capability to gain access to deep space. Maybe it wasn’t mentioned because the administration is still trying to thwart those activities.

Thanks to Congress, the seeds are in place for this incredible venture, and I pray the members of Congress stay the course.

There is something in our very chemistry that calls us to be a world of explorers. Let’s hope it survives the Obama administration.

Tom DeLay is former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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