A can-do America
January 26, 2011
Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, whenever a Senator, such as Senator Pryor from Arkansas, has to announce to the Senate the loss of a near personal friend, especially one he has been friends with, and with their parents, for years, it is always a tremendous loss.
We are coming up in a couple of days on the 25th anniversary of another great loss in this country, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded before our eyes on our television screens on January, 28, 1986. It was such a shock to the Nation, and it hit deep in our psyche because the symbol of America's technological prowess was the space shuttle in the early infancy of the program. The Challenger was only the 25th flight of the space shuttle that the Nation witnessed. In that rerun over and over of the close-up view of those solid rocket boosters going off in different directions 10 miles high in the Florida sky, the Nation witnessed that extraordinary loss.
I will never forget the memorial service in Houston at the Johnson Space Center, when the President of the United States--as sometimes happens in times of grief--became not the President of the United States, not the Commander in Chief, but the comforter in chief. And that was again vividly illustrated a few weeks ago as President Obama delivered that ringing and highly emotional speech in Tucson, AZ. So 25 years ago, as all the crews gathered there at the Johnson Space Center, President Reagan touched the Nation as the comforter in chief and pointed out that despite that tragedy, those brave souls were doing what America has in our genes. By nature, we are explorers and adventurers, and we don't ever give that up. Otherwise, we become a second-rate Nation.
Look at the history of America as explorers. Remember the criticism we read about in our history books concerning President Thomas Jefferson when he wanted to spend a paltry couple of thousand dollars on an expedition called the Lewis and Clark expedition, to see if they could find the passage to the Pacific coast. As a result of that mission, from which miraculously they returned and most of them were alive, they brought back all the artifacts of what this broad land contained.
Remember when Tom Hanks played Jim Lovell in ``Apollo 13.'' ``Apollo 13'' was one of the most successful American space ventures not because they didn't land on the Moon, because they couldn't. Most of the spacecraft on the way to the Moon blew up. We thought we had three dead astronauts who were going to drift in space until they ran out of consumables. And it was that incredible story about how all of America's aerospace expertise resided with the astronaut who had stayed behind. He had been training, but he was exposed to the measles and so he was replaced. So then he was there, with all that knowledge and training for the mission and he could go into the simulator and they were able to simulate in real time how they were going to convert that motor of the lunar lander to get the space ship kicked out of lunar orbit and back on a trajectory to Earth. And remember after they got back--as Tom Hanks is playing Jim Lovell, the commander, in the movie--someone in the audience asks the commander of the now safely returned crew of Apollo 13: Well, is there really the money to continue to explore space? And Lovell's answer is: What would it have been like if Columbus had returned from America and they never went back to follow in his footsteps as an explorer?
So it is, during this time of tragedy, and hearing an individual Senator, Senator Pryor, talk about the loss of loved ones and family friends and young people with bright futures, and the reflection in a day or so of the anniversary of the Challenger tragedy and the loss of seven lives, including the teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was going to teach that lesson plan to the classrooms from space, we are once again reminded that because we dare to venture, because we are by nature explorers, there are risks, and sometimes the price to be paid is with human life. But that is not a reason not to take the risk and to boldly venture forth.
This is a good reminder for us as Americans as we face so many uncertainties--whether it be financial and our future of trying to get out of the recession, or whether it be the uncertain future in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or how the leadership of al-Qaida is being morphed into other countries, such as Yemen or Somalia, or the constant uncertainty of whether we will have a job tomorrow, or whether we can retrain for the new kinds of jobs that are coming on line.
There are a lot of uncertainties--the uncertainties of our energy future. Can we remain dependent on 70 percent of our daily consumption of oil coming from places such as the Persian Gulf and Nigeria and Venezuela? No. It is time for us to venture forth, to explore new realms, to develop new technologies and to be creative. And, of course, as the President spoke last night, we can't do that unless we have an educated workforce, which is so necessary for us to be creative.
It is that creativity, that Yankee ingenuity of Americans, that keeps us competitive in the global marketplace today because we can outinvent, we can outcreate. That is the change America has.
As we reflect upon the tragedies, the individual tragedies that we have, the collective tragedy that we had as a nation--25 years ago with Challenger, several years ago with the loss of Columbia, the losses we had most recently that are seared into our hearts in Tucson--the hope that springs forth for those who are wounded, that they would come back to lead normal lives, these are our challenges. Keep at it. Keep at it.
I say this also. Because it is a time of uncertainty, a lot of pundits are having fun because it appears that NASA is in disarray. NASA should not be in disarray. We have a blueprint. We have a roadmap for the future in the NASA bill that passed this Congress--one of the few that passed in the Congress before the lameduck session. It simply says let's continue to encourage the commercial companies to develop a service of taking astronauts and cargo to and from the space station and let's see if we can do that safely, as determined by NASA, but more efficiently and, therefore, more cheaply, given the constraints of budgets.
But, at the same time, we then allow NASA to do what it does best, which is to venture out and explore the heavens. In so doing, we are going to build a new rocket that will take large components up and that will fulfill the President's goal, which is to go to Mars.
The President specifically set a timetable of 2025 to land and return safely on an asteroid. That is no easy feat, given how fast an asteroid flies through space. But it will give us new technologies, as we develop, to go to Mars.
Think of the unbelievable time it would take us under conventional technology--10 months to get to Mars. Then, once you got to Mars, you pretty well have to stay on the surface of Mars for 1 year, until the planets are realigned, revolving about the Sun, so Mars comes in closer to the Earth for the 10-month trip back. That is why we need new technologies. An astronaut who flew seven times, Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, a plasma physicist from MIT, is developing a plasma rocket that will take us to Mars in 39 days. Then, with that short time flying, at 400,000 miles per hour by plasma thrust, we could stay on the surface 1 month, to return to Earth without having to stay 1 year.
These are exciting new technologies. A pilot project of that plasma rocket, with the acronym VASIMR, is being developed to fly on the space station and provide a continuous pulse that will keep the space station boosted, instead of it having, in the degrading of its orbit for conventional technology, to keep boosting it.
Not only is the sky the limit, not only is the stratosphere the limit, the heavens are the limit if we as Americans will assume this can-do posture that is so typical of the personalities of explorers and adventurers; in other words, the personalities of we, the Americans.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.