Tuesday, January 09, 2007

To The Moon, Mars and Beyond

By Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson

Since Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space in1961, our nation has sent men to walk on the Moon, robots to chartthe surface of Mars, and spacecraft to explore the far reaches of theuniverse. Driven by a spirit of exploration and discovery, thedevelopments of the past few weeks remind us of the breadth and scopeof our space program.Today we are on the verge of an exciting new phase of exploration.The recent return of Space Shuttle Discovery to Earth capped a periodof accomplishment for NASA. In early December, NASA announced itsintentions to establish a permanent settlement at the south pole ofthe moon. A few days later, NASA scientists announced that aspacecraft orbiting Mars had discovered compelling evidence of wateron Mars within the past seven years.

And on Dec. 9, Space ShuttleDiscovery launched into the night sky on the latest mission to theInternational Space Station (ISS).During NASA's 117th space shuttle flight, Discovery's seven-personcrew rewired the ISS to establish a permanent electrical system. Thisnew, more reliable power source will protect the groundbreakingscientific experiments being conducted in this unique nationallaboratory.Planning is underway to send astronauts back to the moon for thefirst time since 1972, and the proposed lunar settlement will serveas a ground station of sorts for future space travelers. NASA's goalto establish a permanent base on the moon is part of the long-rangeVision for Exploration announced by President Bush in January 2004.NASA intends to build habitat and research facilities on the moon.The location currently under consideration is near the moon's southpole at the rim of the Shackleton Crater, aptly named for thelegendary Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. As we developself-sustaining habitats on the moon, we will use it as a base forobserving both the Earth and the heavens beyond, and as a stagingbase for eventual human exploration of Mars.

We have long been interested in Mars, and this lunar station may verywell lead to more extensive understanding of the red planet. We hopeto one day send human crews to the surface of Mars, and until that ispossible, we will continue to study the planet through orbitingreconnaissance spacecraft and the Mars rovers, Spirit andOpportunity. Images provided by these hardy rovers allow for a farbetter understanding of the Martian environment.New before-and-after images taken from orbit suggest the potentialflow of liquid water on the Martian surface.

This could be anenormous discovery that would increase the possibility of findingexisting, primitive forms of single-cell life at or near the surfaceof Mars.We are entering an exciting time for our space program. The enactmentof the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, which I drafted, allows forthe initial testing of the launch systems to replace the spaceshuttle as the principal means of sending humans and cargo intospace. Over the three years, we will see the completion of the ISSand its transition to a fully functional national laboratory. We willalso see the development of a host of privately-financed commercialventures to explore and utilize the region of space closest to theearth, including some intended to help support the use of the ISS. Bythe middle of the next decade, we will witness the early landings ofprobes and sampling missions as we finalize our preparations toreturn humans to the moon's surface by 2020.The drive to explore and discover has resulted in constant humanprogress. Our space exploration has yielded enormous, specificbenefits to us on Earth.

We have seen important, life-saving medicalbreakthroughs in diagnostic tools and treatments for disease. Throughthe unique weightless environment of the shuttle and the ISS, we areacquiring a new understanding of the structure of cells and proteinsthat will be key to developing new drugs and cures for diseases. Thedevelopment of new technologies and manufacturing techniques hascreated entire new industries on Earth.By expanding human civilization into the solar system, we maydiscover new sources for fuel and energy.

Our work in space is trulyan investment in mankind's future and in the improvement of thequality of life on Earth. The achievements of the next half-centurypromise to be even more astounding than the revolutionary advances wehave witnessed since NASA's creation in 1958.


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