"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
Those famous words from Astronaut Neil Armstrong when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 captivated the world and stirred enormous pride in Texas, home of Mission Control.
Only 17 years old at the time, I, like many Americans, watched in amazement as our nation accomplished the unimaginable.
This year America celebrates the 50th anniversary of NASA and our commitment to explore space. In 1958, a year after the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite, President Eisenhower signed legislation creating NASA. The "space race" had begun.
The Manned Spacecraft Center, now known as the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC), opened in Houston in 1963. It became home base for NASA's astronaut corps, training space explorers for the U.S. and its partner nations in the space program.
To this day, the JSC continues to serve as NASA's Mission Control Center, while also directing all space shuttle missions, including the international space station – described as "the largest, most powerful, complex human facility to ever operate in space."
So far, NASA's anniversary celebration has featured scientific conferences, instructional programs for educators, exhibits and air shows. One event – a baseball game in July honoring the anniversary – highlighted the special bond between Houston and America's space program. On hand for the anniversary game in Houston were the seven astronauts scheduled to conduct a NASA flight to the space station this fall.
NASA's influence over Texas has been undeniable. Houston's baseball team, once the Colt .45s, changed their name when NASA came to town. Since then, the Houston Astros have been a staple of the National League, also competing in the 2005 World Series. The team's old stadium, the Astrodome, was the world's first domed sports stadium, built in 1965, and was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
At the same time, the Johnson Space Center employs 15,000 civil servants and contractors, and its economic impact in Texas is enormous. By maintaining America's leadership in the world technology market, all of NASA's facilities play a critical role in boosting the Texas economy, and the larger American economy as a whole.
NASA inspires and attracts America's best and brightest students to study engineering, mathematics, computer programming and the sciences. It serves as an intellectual catalyst for development of new generations of technology, much like previous NASA innovations that led to the development of Global Positioning Systems and CAT scan equipment.
NASA's resilience and vision should encourage Americans that our country has remained steadfastly committed to exploration of space – an enormous expanse of unvisited territory, our final frontier. It has been a privilege to represent an organization as important as NASA and the Johnson Space Center in the U.S. Senate.