Sen. Cruz: Congress Must Equip NASA With the Capabilities to Support Science Missions That Will Lead to Discoveries Across Our Solar System

Chairs Hearing on NASA and Scientific Discoveries in the Search for Life Beyond Earth

I recently chaired a hearing entitled “The Search for Life: Utilizing Science to Explore our Solar System and Make New Discoveries.” During the hearing, expert witnesses discussed progress that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and scientific community are making in the search for life beyond Earth. This is the second in a series of hearings that will lead towards the introduction of a new NASA authorization. Last year, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and I and others authored the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 which was signed into law by President Trump. That bill added to NASA’s mission “the search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” The Atlantic has described the addition of that short phrase as “a visionary one, setting the stage for a far-reaching effort, that could have as profound an impact on the 21st century as the Apollo program had on the 20th.” 

Watch my opening statement in its entirety here. A full transcript is below:

Since the dawn of time man has often looked up at the night sky and wondered, ‘What’s out there? Are we alone?’ 

In 300 B.C. the Greek philosopher Epicurus assumed that, ‘Other worlds, with plants and other living things, some of them similar and some of them different than ours, must exist.’

The basic question of wondering what lies out there is one that has driven civilizations to risk life and limb to explore not only this planet, but to venture out into the solar system. In 1977, NASA began an effort to try to better answer this question by launching Voyager I and Voyager II, which were originally intended to primarily explore Jupiter and Saturn. Each spacecraft carries a small American flag and a Golden Record packed with pictures and sounds that are intended to be mementos of our home planet. Forty years after they were launched, Voyager I has reached ‘Interstellar space’ and Voyager II is in the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.

As each spacecraft continues on its voyage and transmits scientific information back to Earth, we are left to wonder if the great Steve Martin may still be proven right. That one day we will receive a four-word response from intelligent life somewhere in the universe who received the Golden Record and simply request, ‘Send more Chuck Berry.’ 

The search for life isn’t just a question of casual interest. It is an integral part of NASA’s core mission.

In the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which was signed into law by President Trump, this Committee authored and added a short phrase to NASA’s mission: ‘The search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.’ 

The Atlantic has described the addition of that short but momentous phrase as, ‘a visionary one, setting the stage for a far-reaching effort, that could have as profound an impact on the 21st century as the Apollo program had on the 20th.’

Since the enactment of the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, we have even more reason to be encouraged that we’re on the right path. 

Just before our last hearing, the journal Science published a report on radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars. Using radar profiles collected from a satellite between May 2012 and December 2015, scientists have found evidence of a 12-mile-wide reservoir of briny water beneath the South Polar Layered Deposits. And, just one month prior to the announcement of this discovery, NASA reported that the Curiosity rover had found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars suggesting the planet could have supported ancient life. 

We are making progress as we search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.

As we look to draft a new NASA Authorization Act, hopefully this year, it is imperative that we not only continue to make progress answering this question, but that we also equip NASA with the capabilities that it needs to support science missions and priorities that will lead to discoveries across our solar system. This is a momentous time to be involved in space exploration, and I look forward to the testimony of our esteemed witnesses.

Watch the full hearing here.

Issues: 
 

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