To Maintain U.S. Leadership in Space, We Must Inspire the Future Workforce

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, I yesterday led a hearing with educators and industry leaders on the importance of hands-on learning opportunities for students in developing America's future space workforce. During my introductory remarks, I highlighted the historic accomplishments of NASA during the Apollo Program and the crucial role a skilled, diverse workforce played, and the importance of inspiring children of all ages and background to become involved in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Watch my full introductory remarks here, full transcript is below:

Earlier this year, on one of the hottest nights of the summer, nearly half a million people crowded on to the national mall. They weren't there for a protest or to celebrate a national holiday, and they weren't there for a concert or to watch a firework show. No, instead half a million people were there, drenched in sweat, to watch the story of the Apollo 11 mission as it was projected onto the Washington Monument, commemorating the moment 50 years ago when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took that ‘giant leap for mankind.'

Everyone in D.C. knows that if there are a half million people on the Mall and it ain't a protest, something big is going on. And landing the first humans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth marks as one of the epical moments in the history of mankind.

As we look out over the space landscape today, what we see is very different from the landscape of 1969. Indeed, not only did we succeed in going to the Moon and back again, but we've gone on to put robotic rovers on distant planets, celestial observatories in orbit that can literally peer into the beginnings of the universe, and we've established an enduring human presence in low-Earth orbit. In the span of a single lifetime, we have seen space fundamentally transformed from an uninhabited void, or scientific novelty, to an integral part of our daily lives and the world economy.

Space is often referred to as the last frontier and rightfully so. Much like the first frontiers of exploration, space is hard. It takes meticulous planning and extraordinary determination, and even then, nothing is guaranteed. It's dangerous, but the last frontier shares a critical aspect with the first frontiers through its power now and tomorrow to inspire us.

The space race of the 1960's inspired Americans to aim higher, to dream bigger than they ever had before, to literally shoot for the Moon, and I believe the burgeoning space sector of today can do the same for an even bigger and broader swath of the United States and the world.

Just a few weeks ago, we witnessed the historic all-female spacewalk on the International Space Station-the first ever. And when the United States returns to the Moon as part of the Artemis program-Artemis of course being the twin sister of Apollo-well, NASA has committed that we will land the first woman ever on the surface of the Moon, and it will be an American astronaut who steps forth on the Moon. As the father of two young daughters that makes me very proud indeed. As we return to bold space exploration, we do so with not only a much more diverse astronaut corps but also with a much more diverse set of commercial and non-governmental partners.

As we move out on those plans, it is worth remembering that the success of Apollo 11 and our national space program as a whole was due in no small part to the contributions of a diverse workforce, including countless women who were working behind the scenes and whose stories have only recently become household names. One of those women, Dr. Christine Darden, testified before this subcommittee earlier this year. Dr. Darden was one of the famed ‘human computers' at NASA, and without her work and the work of many other so-called ‘computers,' many of them African-American women, we never could have sent astronauts into space-let alone brought them back safely.

Unfortunately, for far too long Dr. Darden and the other computers' contributions were hidden, relegated to the background for a time. Her story, and the story of others like her, serves as a reminder of the lessons we need to learn from to ensure that we are cultivating, and elevating talent and leadership, not based on race or gender, but on merit, demonstrated skill, based on hard work, and based on passion.

Today's hearing is about building the kind of workforce that ensures NASA and the diverse group of partners we return to space exploration has the skilled base of people it needs to be successful now and in the future. That ensures the space economy can continue to grow, and that we will be successful in establishing the United States of America as the leader and a true space-faring nation.

To accomplish this we can and should leverage the inspiration of space and space exploration to get kids of all ages, of all backgrounds, resources engaged, excited about science, technology, engineering, and math. But that alone isn't enough. Creating the space workforce for the future will require us to take a serious look at the road ahead, to explore unconventional partnerships and roles of responsibility, and take other decisive actions, as needed, to maintain U.S. leadership in space. Getting it right will be a complex and challenging undertaking-after all, space is hard. But I am reminded of and encouraged by something Gene Kranz, the Apollo 11 Flight Director, said of that mission when he testified before this Subcommittee in July of this year-‘what America will dare, America will do.'

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about their work in STEM education and what suggestions they might have for how we in Congress can act, and I want to thank the Ranking Member for her initiative in proposing that we hold this hearing and for her leadership, bipartisan leadership that has strengthened this committee. And I look forward to continuing alongside her for many years to come.


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