On (March 10), the Houston Chronicle published an editorial that discussed my commitment to NASA and Houston's Johnson Space Center "Dark skies." I'd like to discuss that in more detail here.

Just over a half century ago, President John F. Kennedy laid down a marker in Houston and made the commitment that like the great pioneers that came before us, we, too, would set sail on a new sea and send a man to the moon.

We embarked upon that endeavor as a nation because the opening vistas of space promised high costs and hardships, as well as high rewards.

Today we find ourselves at a similar crossroad. 2015 is just as critical a time for our national and commercial space programs as was the case in 1962. Future exploration is certain to present hardships, but it also promises big rewards - in the form of new resources, new frontiers and new economic opportunities.

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, my first priority for the subcommittee's space component is refocusing NASA's energies on its core priority of exploring space. We need to get back to the hard sciences, to manned space exploration and to the innovation that has been integral to NASA's mission. We need to ensure that the United States remains a leader in space exploration in the 21st century.

NASA's Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft are critical to our medium- and long-term ability to explore the moon, Mars or beyond. At the same time, I am deeply concerned about our current inability to reach low-Earth orbit. We are entirely dependent on the Russian Soyuz system, which is unacceptable from the perspective of space interests, and also for national security interests. Every seat that an American astronaut occupies on the Russian Soyuz costs $76 million.
It is imperative that America has the capability to get to the International Space Station without assistance from foreign governments. We should have the capability, if needed, to launch a rescue mission to the space station without depending on Russia. America should have the capacity to launch our critical satellites without needing to acquire Russian RD180 Engines. And NASA's commercial crew program is critical to restoring this capability.

The progress we've made with regard to commercial cargo and commercial crew is good, but we need a continued focus on this growing opportunity. As chairman of this subcommittee, I will be an enthusiastic advocate of competition and enabling the private sector to compete and innovate.

In 2013, 81 orbital space launches were conducted worldwide, 23 of which were commercial launches. Revenues from the 23 commercial orbital launches were estimated to be more than $1.9 billion. The U.S. accounted for six of these launches. There is more that can be done to create long-term predictability for the U.S. commercial space industry and NASA, and, importantly, the best way to ensure that Johnson Space Center remains the international center of excellence for space exploration is to ensure that America has a strong and robust space exploration program.

There is no limit to human imagination or for the desire for exploration; every one of us has looked up at the night sky and wondered what lies out there. America has a long history of leading the way in space exploration and we must reclaim that leadership.

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