When I heard President John F. Kennedy’s famous Rice University speech declaring America’s mission to the moon, like so many Americans, I was deeply inspired by the president’s call and wanted very much to be a part of it. I was just 15 years old at the time, but I immediately decided that whatever it took, I was going to have my fingerprints on that rocket. A little over five years later I had the opportunity of working on the Apollo program as an inspector with McDonnell Douglas. It was an exciting experience, and I am both grateful and humbled to have been a part of it.
The United States remains the only nation to have landed humans on the moon and returned them safely to Earth. It is among the greatest achievements in the history of the human race, and it has significantly contributed to America’s leadership on the world stage. The Apollo Missions opened the door to other significant accomplishments, like building Space Shuttles to test the limits of human space flight, prolonged robotic exploration of Mars, launching a space-based telescope that can see far beyond our solar system, and conducting scientific research on the International Space Station.
Our space program is important to our economy, national security, scientific discovery, technological advancement and the survival of our species. So much of our modern-day life is dependent on space — making a bank transaction, for example, or even a phone call these days requires using some type of space-faring technology. From GPS to life-saving medical research and advanced agriculture, hybrid car batteries and even Posturepedic mattresses, our investment in space has spawned some truly amazing innovations and has a positive impact on our nation and the world.
If we want to continue to see the fruits of that investment, NASA should follow through with plans to return to the moon as a stepping stone to reaching Mars and beyond. The foundation for such a bold mission is already being laid, but NASA needs to lead the way forward. In 2010, Congress authorized construction of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) as a successor to the Space Shuttle that will be capable of launching both cargo and human crews into space. The idea is to build a powerful rocket that will enable humans to return to the moon and eventually travel to Mars and other deep space destinations. The SLS and its Orion crew capsule have received strong, bipartisan funding support by Congress, and each day we are a step closer to returning to the moon.
Moreover, the Trump administration took several important steps which could establish a new era of space exploration such as: reconstituting the National Space Council, an advisory panel chaired by the vice president that helps layout our nation’s space policy; and signing Space Policy Directive 1, which calls on NASA and our burgeoning commercial space industry to return to human exploration of space. Furthermore, Vice President Mike Pence charged the National Space Council with creating a more competitive regulatory environment for commercial space companies and making a return to the moon a priority.
Establishing a human presence on the moon offers us the ability to develop and test technologies to cope with the realities of operating on an extraterrestrial surface but within close proximity to Earth. There are many minerals, isotopes and other natural resources that can be gleaned from the moon’s surface such as ice deposits, which can be used to sustain an outpost or produce rocket propellant for deep space exploration. In short, the moon can be used as a staging area for a mission to Mars. Aside from providing a training ground for space-faring enabling technologies, we still have much to learn from exploring the moon. To date, 12 Americans have explored a section of our moon smaller than the National Mall. Additionally, a new moon mission will open up more opportunities for our commercial space sector.
The most fitting way to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing is to build upon its tremendous success. We shouldn’t retreat from the moon, we should return to it. We shouldn’t ignore it as a next destination, we should embrace it. Young people looking to be part of something special should consider a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Just as the world watched the first humans take their first steps on the moon, this is an exciting time for space exploration and discovery.
• Bill Posey represents Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which includes the Kennedy Space Center. He serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
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