Mr. President, later today this body will vote to confirm my friend Jim Bridenstine to be the next NASA administrator.
In that position, he will be in charge of rebuilding a space program that matches the pioneering spirit and determination of the American people.
I have known Congressman Bridenstine for many years, and I know that he is just the man for this important undertaking.
Let us review his record. It will show that Jim Bridenstine’s service to our country is matched only by his eagerness to press the boundaries of sky and space.
Jim Bridenstine is a veteran Navy combat pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He logged 1,900 flight hours over his 9-years of active service. And he is still a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Following his military service, Jim Bridenstine worked as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. He even owned a team in the ambitious but short-lived Rocket Racing League.
Congressman Bridenstine has served on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee in the House since his first term in Congress six years ago.
Among other things, he has authored legislation to protect American space assets from attack and to protect all of us here below from severe weather events through forecasting.
The name of his latest bill on this subject says it all: The American Space Renaissance Act.
If ever there was a need for a renaissance in space, it is now.
Because who can deny that ever since Louis Armstrong’s fateful “one, small step” in 1969, America has been retreating from space?
Just twelve years separate the start of the Space Race from man’s first footfall on the Moon.
It has been almost 50 years since then, and it is unclear we could go back to the Moon if we wanted to.
As Vice President Pence pointed out recently, we have not sent an American beyond low-Earth orbit in 45 years.
And in a humiliating, self-inflicted wound, America now relies on Russia to carry our astronauts to the International Space Station, because we shuttered our own Space Shuttle program.
In other words, after winning the Space Race, we gave away the distinction of manned spaceflight to the second-place finisher.
NASA’s decline and disrepair is a great tragedy, but it is not all I see when I survey the horizon. And I know this is true of Congressman Bridenstine as well.
I see no reason why America, in all her ingenuity and might, cannot be the dominant leader in space once again.
Indeed, I see plenty of areas where this transformation is already underway.
In government, President Trump has signaled his commitment to American leadership in space by relaunching the National Space Council, which met for the first time last fall.
Outside of government, private enterprise is pressing the boundaries of commercial space flight every day.
In the deserts of my home state of Utah, firms like Orbital ATK are developing and testing the next generation of rocket engines.
And just weeks ago, we all watched as SpaceX successfully tested its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the most powerful rocket in the world.
The reaction to that remarkable event is proof that Americans are still awed—still star-struck—by space exploration.
A new era of leaders can restore this ambition in government.
In the halls outside this chamber, the Senate has a constant reminder of the importance of the space program. I refer to the commemorative mural this body commissioned in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
The mural depicts the crew looking expectantly into the future; behind them is the shuttle that carried them to Heaven. And the world is in their hands.
Those astronauts gave their lives in order to advance America’s space program. They knew the risks—greater practically than any profession on Earth or beyond it—but they believed the mission of American exploration was worth it.
What will it say about us if we fail to carry on the mission they undertook? If instead of exploring the infinite frontier, we remain here below, passing the torch of exploration to some other people?
I don’t want to contemplate that future, Mr. President, and I don’t believe the American people do, either.
Claiming our rightful place in the stars will require an effort spanning many years and several presidential administrations.
But we can begin that undertaking today by confirming a leader with a remarkable record of service to our country, a vision for the American space program that is big, not small—and a faith in his country that is as boundless as the heavens.
That man is Jim Bridenstine. I urge my colleagues to confirm him without obstruction and delay. Thank you.