By Ted Cruz, Lamar Smith and Brian Babin
From President Kennedy's 1962 call at Rice University to place a man on the moon within the decade, to the phrase, "Houston … The Eagle has landed," to the first private rocket launch on Matagorda Island, Texas' leadership in space exploration is undeniable.
Travel across Texas today, and it's not hard to see the substantial economic investment the space industry is making in communities such as Midland and Van Horn in the West, McGregor in Central Texas, Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley, and Houston in the Southeast. These investments are creating new manufacturing facilities and high-tech jobs.
Space exploration is also critical to the global competitiveness of the United States as our nation seeks to remain the leader in space. Unfortunately, in recent years, uncertainty and cancellations of core missions have clouded the future of NASA and the broader space industry. Cancellations to programs such as Constellation, which sought to return astronauts to the moon and beyond, have had lasting negative consequences not only on NASA but on the economy.
NASA and the broader space community have been sitting at a crossroads. And while there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of space exploration, NASA desperately needs Congress to secure the agency's long-term future and provide the stability NASA requires to carry out its core missions, continue the development of a growing commercial space sector, and transition from one administration to the next. To accomplish these objectives and ensure that the United States remains the global leader in space exploration, we authored the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which has passed both chambers of Congress and will soon be sent to the President's desk to be signed into law.
This legislation, supported broadly by Republicans and Democrats, advances the deep exploration of space by humans, ensures full utilization of the International Space Station and fosters the commercialization and economic development of low Earth orbit. In Texas, this legislation will ensure that the Johnson Space Center remains the crown jewel when it comes to providing mission support to NASA's human spaceflight missions.
Our legislation accomplishes these objectives in a number of ways. It authorizes Congress to appropriate $19.5 billion to support NASA's core programs. It ensures that NASA fully utilizes the International Space Station so that American taxpayers can realize the greatest value of their investment in our national research lab. And it ensures that the private sector is able to work aboard the ISS to help American innovation and creativity expand American commerce into space. Empowering the full utilization of ISS is especially important to the Johnson Space Center, which trains astronauts before they deploy to ISS and houses the space station's mission control. The legislation authorizes continued development of NASA's Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule, which will serve as NASA's advanced launch vehicle to transport American astronauts to the surface of Mars and beyond.
The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 will let mankind venture further into space than we've ever gone before. However, as we undertake these new journeys, we must not forget that they can pose significant challenges and entail substantial risks to the lives and well-being of those who serve in space. Long-duration space flight missions, such as journeys to Mars, will expose astronauts to high levels of radiation and microgravity that can significantly impact their health. To support the physical and mental well-being of our astronauts, our bill designates Johnson Space Center as the leader in monitoring, diagnosing and potentially treating astronauts should they develop a health condition as a result of exploring space.
Our legislation also directs NASA to end our dependence on Russia for transporting American astronauts to and from space, and empowers the U.S. to transport and, if necessary, rescue our own astronauts from the ISS in the event of an emergency. Our support of NASA's commercial crew program will enable us to once again launch our astronauts from U.S. soil as early as next year.
We look forward to President Trump signing this legislation into law so that our nation, and the great state of Texas, can continue to extend the reach of humans and commerce throughout our galaxy.
Cruz, a Republican representing Texas in the U.S. Senate, is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. Smith, a Republican representing San Antonio in the U.S. House of Representatives, is chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Congressman Babin is the chairman of the House Space Subcommittee.