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On Eve Of Final Shuttle Launch, Senator Rubio Discusses NASA’s Future On Senate Floor

Jul 7, 2011 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the future of America’s space program, as the shuttle program prepares for its final mission.  The video is available here.  For television stations, a broadcast quality video is available here.  The full transcript is below:

SENATOR RUBIO: I am here today on the eve of NASA’s final space shuttle launch, first to recognize that 30 years ago the United States launched the first space shuttle mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It marked a new era of American leadership and it showed once again that Americans would continue to be committed to being first in space and on the cutting edge of scientific progress to improve our lives.

It also showed what free people who are committed to discovery, to innovation, to improving the lives of their fellow man can accomplish. President Ronald Reagan said it best when he kicked off the space station program in 1984. He said this, he said, “We are first, we are the best, and we are so because, we’re free.” 

Over these 30 years, we have been witness to many heroic triumphs in space that have served as a testament to America’s unparalleled ingenuity and imagination. 

Over time, the shuttle program would make household names out of some. Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. One shuttle alum even serves with us in the Senate today. It’s our colleague, my fellow Senator from Florida, Bill Nelson. 

Of course, space exploration has always entailed risk taking. It has always required putting one’s life on the line. Because of this, the space shuttle program’s history also gave us moments of great pain as we lost Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger crew in 1986 and then the Columbia crew in 2003. Each time these tragedies forced us to ask ourselves is space exploration worth it? And thank God each time America answered with an emphatic “yes.” 

And so today on the eve of the final space shuttle launch, we celebrate the shuttle program’s remarkable feats, which exhibited many of the qualities that make America exceptional — courage, ingenuity, risk taking and an ability to accomplish what once seemed unthinkable. 

Space exploration speaks volumes about America, who we are as a people and as a nation. When America was born 235 years ago, surely our founding fathers could not fathom that one day our people would fly amongst the stars. But the truth is it has always been our destiny. In the 19th century, it became our manifest destiny to explore and push westward until the American land stretched from sea to shining sea. And once we reached as far west as we could, Americans had no choice but to gaze up to the sky and settle on the stars as our next frontier.

Almost 42 years ago to this very day, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins made that giant leap for mankind and left their indelible footprints on the moon’s surface and on human history. For on that night in July of 1969, the whole world witnessed the American miracle firsthand.

Even today, those moments serve as a pointed reminder about the limitless capacity that Americans possess in space and in every aspect of our lives. Even as we face a host of domestic and international challenges, America possesses a remarkable capacity to meet them by setting ambitious goals, as President Kennedy did in his ‘Moon Speech’, persevering in the face of setbacks and rising to the occasion to do what history demands of us.

Our space program inspired young generations of Americans to pursue careers in the aerospace industry and other related fields. Satellite technologies developed and improved by NASA now connect the world in unprecedented ways and support our military reconnaissance missions and facilitate travel through G.P.S. devices. For others, it got them hooked on math and science and let them to other fields whose innovations make our lives better every single day. And then there were the lucky few who would actually go on to fly on our space shuttles. 

For the rest of us who didn’t pursue careers in science, math and engineering, our journeys into space have meant a lot in different ways. For many of us, Kennedy Space Center elicits memories of where imaginations are awakened and where dreams are born and many children think fondly of their visits for field trips or space camps. And in my case, the time my parents took me there for my eighth birthday, just before we moved our family to Las Vegas. 

But these types of feelings didn’t just happen in America. You see, the impact of our space program is a global phenomenon. One needs to look no further than the various foreign currencies in the donation box down at Washington’s National Air & Space Museum to understand what our space program means not only to Florida and our country but for all of humanity. 

This brings me to the other reason for speaking today. You see, when this final shuttle mission draws to a close, many Americans will be startled by the realization that we don’t have an answer to the question: What’s next for NASA?

NASA has no answer, the administration has no answer, and as we transition to the next generation of space exploration, Florida’s aerospace workers are left with only questions about their future.

We know that for the next few years, we’ll have to rely on the Russians to get us to space. Just a few weeks ago, that only cost $50 million an astronaut. Now the price tag is up to to $63 million per astronaut. We can only imagine it will go higher. 

You see, whereas America once led the way to the moon, we now face the unacceptable prospect of limited options to simply get a human into orbit. We know that our commercial space partners are working to fill some of the gap in our human space flight capabilities, and that is a promising development that we should encourage. But we need NASA to lead.

And I say this, I fully recognize that our nation faces a debt crisis because, quite frankly, politicians in both parties have spent recklessly for many decades, and it will require Washington to finally live within its means and for leaders to make tough choices about what our nation’s priorities are.

NASA is no exception. It will not be about spending more. It will be about spending wisely.

And so tomorrow, Americans will proudly watch as Atlantis takes off for its last flight. It will be a pointed opportunity to recall the entire 30-year history of the shuttle program and all that has been achieved in 50 years of NASA’s existence and will be another opportunity to thank the thousands of men and women in Florida who have made this program possible and who take such pride in the shuttle and what it has accomplished.

For NASA, just like our nation, it is at its best when it is looking forward, not looking back.