|26 May 1997
Statement of U.S. Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL) before the 16th Annual International Space Development Conference sponsored by the National Space Society
|I want to thank the
National Space Society for inviting me here this morning, and I
want to offer congratulations to everyone on what I've heard has
been an outstanding conference so far. It's exciting to see space
activists from around the country, and around the world, gathering
in my home state to talk about our civilization's future in space.
The National Space Society is an important part of our space policy
discussions in Washington, and I am deeply grateful to Charlie
Walker, David Brandt, and others NSS leaders for their hard work on
behalf of the space program.
And the Society's efforts couldn't come at a more important time. Our nation is at a critical decision point regarding the space program, one that is tremendously exciting yet at the same time uncertain. The space program motivates our children and inspires scientists, engineers, and explorers who constantly probe the unknown secrets of our world and the universe. And despite some recent difficulties, NASA is still a symbol of our nation's preeminent position as a scientific leader in the world.
Policymakers must decide whether to continue forward with the International Space Station, and as of a few weeks ago we got a resounding "yes!" out of the House of Representatives. Policymakers must also decide whether to maintain stable funding for other NASA programs, and I have been at the forefront in Congress to do just that.
NASA is making important investments in such programs as the Space Station, the next-generation Reusable Launch Vehicle - - which will help the U.S. regain market shares of commercial launches - - a search for planets outside our solar system, and other scientific endeavors that probe the boundaries of our scientific, medical, and engineering knowledge.
As Vice Chairman of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, I am committed to ensuring NASA has the resources it needs to move forward with its mission. My district, which includes the historic Space Coast - - just a few minutes to our west - - is home to Cape Canaveral, the busiest spaceport in the world. Nowhere else can you find such a diverse mix of civil, military, and commercial space activity.
We must continue to invest in the Space Station, despite current difficulties, and we must continue to safely and efficiently fly the Space Shuttle fleet. And we must foster the development of reusable launch vehicles, which promise to dramatically lower the cost of getting to orbit.
However, we must also balance our human space flight program with a robust and ambitious science and unmanned exploration program. I sat transfixed with the rest of the world in the summer of 1994 when Jupiter was bombarded by the Shoemaker-Levy comet - - bringing the tiny dimensions of our world into universal perspective. I anxiously await the data and pictures from our recently launched probe to Mars, as well as the fascinating story that should emerge from our mission to Saturn later this year.
So we need to have a balanced program. Automated probes and robots can serve us well in the initial phases of exploration, and to explore where humans will never be able to go, but in order to truly get a sense of an alien world, we have to be there, to touch it, to feel it. I support a return to the Moon - - to stay, this time - - and a mission to Mars. Technically, we can do those things now, but we must find the political and economic will to make it happen.
We must also foster our commercial space sector. And this is where the decision point I mentioned earlier becomes truly exciting, in my opinion. I firmly believe the future of space exploration will depend, in large part, on the private sector's role, and I want to give every business an opportunity to use space as an economic resource. But we need to take a hard look at how the federal government interacts with our commercial space community, and make sure we are not hindering their growth potential. The federal government must encourage this industry to grow and prosper, especially since we as a nation find ourselves in an ever-more competitive international market.
The private sector and state governments are stepping up to this monumental challenge. We have a booming satellite market, especially looking ahead to the constellations of cutting edge LEO telecommunications satellites; we see commercial spaceports emerging from coast to coast; and the federal government is entering innovative public-private partnerships like the X-33 program. We also see wholly private launch services companies that hope to compete with the Reusable Launch Vehicle and the current fleet of Expendable Launch Vehicles, and I think that competition should be encouraged. Florida's own state commercial spaceport is only months away from beginning launch operations, and I'm anxious to see its users reap the benefits of streamlined and efficient operations. In fact, I'm happy to report that the Spaceport Florida Authority received its commercial operator's license from the FAA just last week.
As a policymaker, there are four key areas I intend to focus on over the next year or so. The first is continued investment in the X-33 and follow-on RLV program. I know there are many skeptics out there about the real potential of the program, but I am optimistic about this venture. I'm also excited about NASA's recent announcements of other new X-vehicles, which I think are critical steps as we move forward with advanced commercial and civil orbital and suborbital vehicles. The real test of the X-33 program will obviously come when the federal investment ends, and it is important for Lockheed Martin to work now with the financial and investment community to ensure this transition takes place.
Until that time, we must continue to rely on the Space Shuttle for our human space flight needs, and I want to publicly commend the managers, engineers, and technical support crews of United Space Alliance for a very smooth transition so far, and I hope for continued success on our current Spacehab mission to Mir.
The second area in which I take a very strong interest is commercial efforts within NASA. There's been a lot of talk at NASA over the last several years about ensuring a good working relationship with the commercial sector, and I want to make sure that happens.
In particular, I believe NASA needs to take a long, hard look at its own structure now in place to promote commercialization. I can't help but feel there needs to be a central office to handle commercial efforts, rather than requiring individual field centers to worry about it amidst their own regional political and budgetary issues. I know there have been unsuccessful attempts at this in the past, but we, the federal government, should work closely with the private sector to find a successful model.
Recent report also highlight a problem that is just now starting to publicly emerge, which is the lack of science and commercial research space on upcoming Space Shuttle flights, which are largely dominated by construction flights for the International Space Station. I'm concerned that this lengthy hiatus will prevent further experiments and investment in commercial space, removing the key link to future commercialization aboard the Space Station.
We have to find more room for commercial work on the Space Shuttle. Without commercial programs aboard the Shuttle, NASA will come up far short when it starts looking for commercial customers for the Station. In fact, expanded commercial opportunities due to Shuttle manifest changes may be one of the silver linings in our current problems with Russia.
As the federal government develops plans for commercializing civil and military space programs, NASA, Congress, and other agencies must work closely with the financial and investment community. I am convinced that a lack of financial insight into space efforts doomed many past efforts from the start. I want to involve companies like SpaceVest, which is doing totally private capital investment in space efforts, in any planning at the federal level for commercial space efforts.
Too often, Members of Congress, Administration officials, and other government analysts think they know the answer to a private sector problem, only to leave out the most important player in the planning process - - the private sector. And I think that financial institutions and investment houses that are largely free of government work should be the ones we turn to. We still need technical and political input from the government and contractor community, but we sorely need the unbiased market perspective of the financial community. There has been a lot of talk recently about forming a public-private venture to promote commercialization, and I think we should definitely explore that option further, but only with the input and assistance of the financial community.
Third, I will continue to look at the commercial launch industry, particularly the international market. Some of you may recall that I expressed a great deal of concern over the last two years when the White House brokered trade agreements with Russia, China, and Ukraine that opened up the western geostationary launch market - - practically overnight - - to non-market economies. I know that there are many in the aerospace community that disagreed with my position, but I wanted to ensure our domestic launch providers weren't being subjected to unfair price competition. I fully understand the satellite community's need for risk and cost reduction by using multiple launch vehicles, and, in fact, I think some of the agreements that have been reached are very innovative and show forward thinking in the American aerospace community.
But I will continue to monitor the pricing situation in the international launch market, and I will continue to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to make sure they too are monitoring any developments. I will say that I'm not as concerned with those countries that are teamed with American aerospace companies, because I can't think of a better way to export free market and democratic ideals than working with an American firm. Nonetheless, I'll continue to take a strong interest in this area.
In part because of the trade agreements, I also want to explore the possibility of opening our domestic spaceports up to foreign launch vehicles. Provided any given foreign launch vehicle meets a set of national security, safety, and pricing criteria, I think that domestic spaceports should have the ability to bring them to U.S. soil. Our country offers the most diverse range of launch options, and we should take full advantage of that in this fiercely competitive international market.
Fourth, I want to track the progress that is made by the Air Force and industry in working out arrangement to use federal launch sites. The "excess capacity" policy has been appropriate in the past, but it's not clear the Air Force can adequately support the aggressive launch manifests of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The government needs to work closely with industry to find a long-term solution to this emerging problem, and we must not limit the options that can be explored.
For example, we need to look at a possible scenario that augments the Air Force's involvement with more NASA and private sector responsibility for launch site operations, and see how that would affect pricing, insurance, technical support, and other areas. I'm also encouraged to see the Air Force working hard to modernize our national launch ranges, which will enable us to better compete in the international market, and that needs to be taken into account as we look at these options.
But we do need to completely reexamine the way our ranges are offered to commercial launch customers, as well as the way commercial customers use the range. The ranges are national resources, of course, and we must never eliminate our ability to use them in support of national security goals. But we must not let that be used as an excuse for failing to develop them as an economic resource for the nation.
Finally, I would like to make a point that is very often overlooked in our annual debate on the space program. I support the space program for a variety of reasons, among them scientific and medical benefits, economic growth and international competitiveness, and as a stepping stone to future human exploration of the solar system. However, I also strongly believe that our civilization's future lies in space. As you look through history, civilizations that cease to explore and expand their technological frontiers cease to exist. They may choose not to expand and explore for a variety of reasons, but the end result is the same: the civilization stagnates and becomes a part of history.
Our nation, and in fact our world, is at such a threshold. In space lies the future of the human race, and to turn away from that challenge now could set us back as much as a century, perhaps more. Of course, if we stopped exploring space tomorrow we probably wouldn't feel the impact immediately. It would be our children, and their children, who would lose the drive to explore, and with them would be lost a historic opportunity for our nation.
As a part of that vision for future generations, I want Congress and the White House to look beyond the near-term and put some serious thought into where our nation needs to be in 10, 20, even 50 years from now. I would like for the United States, either alone or with other countries, to establish a permanent base on the moon that can meet both the commercial and scientific needs of our nation. One of the most exciting concepts I've seen in a while is the proposal to established a lunar-based obervatory, which would provide astronomical observations that are an order of magnitude better than anything we have today. And I want policymakers to look seriously at concepts like space-based solar power satellites. I know one of your earlier sessions examined this possibility, and I think it needs to be brought into mainstream policy discussions.
But before I close, I also want to quickly touch on a bigger debate in Washington that directly affects the space program, both civil and commercial, although many people rarely think of it in that context. The foremost reality that all space program supporters must face is our staggering national debt. Mindless deficit spending - - by Democrats and Republicans alike - - has left our nation in a fiscal crisis. The national drive to balance the budget is not political rhetoric, it is an imperative reality. Fortunately, as a result of the 104th Congress, that has become a national agenda item.
The challenge facing the commercial and civil space community, then, is to work within the constraints of this new fiscal reality, and provide a clear rationale for investment in our space program to both new and returning Members of Congress. We must ensure that every Member sees the space program in the context of an investment in the future, not just pork for back home. This realization should help to reinforce to the space community the need for true commercial efforts, with little or no government investment, more so than quasi-commercial efforts that are little more than government contracts.
I strongly support the effort to balance the budget, and I will continue to work towards that goal in the 105th Congress. It is crucial to balance the budget if we expect to see any significant, sustained investment in science and technology. However, I also believe that today's wise investments in our space program do not have to suffer as we get our fiscal house in order. In fact, I have made increased funding for NASA and other components of our space program one of my top legislative priorities for the 105th Congress.
Space policy has not consistently been a top issue for Congress or the White House, yet the next few years may prove to be defining moments in our space program. Both the public and private sector must learn to work smarter and harder with less resources, and we must do a better job of informing the public of our achievements. It will take a strong coalition of space supporters to ensure a strong, viable space program, and I look forward to working with other Members of Congress, the Administration, state governments, industry, and organizations like the National Space Society as we confront the challenges facing our space program. Working together, we can ensure our nation's space program - - civil, military, and commercial - - remains the world leader.