The White House and Congress once again face some tough choices over the future of U. S. human space exploration -- even as the mid-2011 retirement of NASA's long-running shuttle program grows ever fainter in the rear view mirror.
The challenge of striking the right balance for government and commercial initiatives to recover a U.S. human launch capability in the face of the larger issues of federal budget and deficit reduction seemed ever present as many architects of current and past achievements gathered in Houston on Friday (April 26) to honor Kay Bailey Hutchison, the former U. S. Senator from Texas, with the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement and the National Space Trophy.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, National Space Trophy recipient. Photo credit: RNASA Foundation.
As the trophy's 27th recipient, Hutchison urged an already mindful audience that included NASA Administrator Charles Bolden not to sacrifice the nation's human deep space exploration aspirations in the process.
"This is the best of America," insisted Hutchison, as she accepted an award for lifetime achievements in the field previously bestowed on the late Neil Armstrong and former U. S. president George H. W. Bush. "We will assure that America is never second in space."
It was Hutchison, a prominent Republican member of NASA's authorization and appropriations subcommittees over much of her near two decades in the Senate, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and current chair of the Science and Space Subcommittee, who struck a rare bi-partisan theme in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The legislation directs NASA to nurture commercial replacements for the shuttle's human and cargo orbital transportation capabilities while pursuing development of the Space Launch System, Orion crew vehicle and ground support systems as the cornerstones of future NASA led human deep space exploration.
Now working as a Dallas attorney, Hutchison's voice is no longer a force in the highly partisan debate over the long-running impact of the budget sequester on an already fragile human space equation.
"We in America, we are not the ankle biters," she noted, after accepting the award from previous recipients Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17 commander, and Tom Stafford, Apollo Soyuz Test Project and Apollo 10 commander as well as a frequent NASA adviser. "We are bold statement makers."