May 1997 Archives

Hearings held by the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on International Affairs and Criminal Justice at the National Air and Space Museum on 9 May 1997

This is the nth congressional hearing I have attended since the early 1970s. Little distinguishes one hearing from another - and they all become one immense blur after a while.

Today's hearing was a departure from the norm. This hearing was held in the main gallery of the National Air and Space Museum, justifiably the most popular museum in the world. This was the first hearing ever held here.

Your typical congressional hearing on NASA usually occurs in a room with larger than life paintings of former committee chairmen looking down at you with little spacecraft swirling around their heads. Here, the real stuff is overhead - and the only exploits on display are those of real space explorers.

In his opening statement, the committee chairman pointed to spacecraft as he introduced his esteemed panel of astronauts. Throughout the entire hearing there was an unusual amount of "looking at the sights" by all involved. Being in the direct proximity of such an overwhelming preponderance of history - especially when Congress is deliberating the future of NASA - has an automatic effect upon you.

This was a hearing about the past as much as it was about the future - and the very disappointing present with which the two overlap. It seemed a common consensus that we should be a lot further along with the exploration of space than we currently are. Without exception, each participant was eloquent- either in expressing their personal passion for the human exploration of space and the importance of a frontier or a challenge in shaping and propelling America.

Buzz Aldrin began his testimony by noting the special location of the hearing, the three decades that have passed since he walked on the moon, and the vividness with which he still recalls the event - stating that " having walked on the Moon myself, I am still awed by that miracle". In referring to this awe he said " hat awe - in me and in each of us - for what this nation and people can bring forth when we try, should be - must be - the engine of future achievement, not a slow-dimming light from a time once bright". He noted that his mission - and the missions that followed built upon the know-how of thousands of people as well as the faith and commitment shown by the nation as a whole.

He cast his testimony as a call for action - " a call to all Americans - especially young Americans - to reach out for the stars, reach for greater knowledge, have faith in the future, and help re-inspire a renewed national commitment to human space exploration."

Aldrin called for a renewed program of exploring the solar system - of going back to the Moon - permanently, on to Mars, and then beyond. He also expressed he need for cheaper access to space and that consideration be given to space-based power sources.

Aldrin said that he hoped that this hearing would serve to reawaken the dream that inspired us to go to the moon - and that this awakening could start with Congress and other leaders. He said "I beckon you to let yourselves dream again, and you may yet hear what I hear what I hear ricocheting about the American public: Excitement and a willingness to take risks again - behind that excitement and willingness, a slow-growing call for renewed action".

In closing, Aldrin said that "space IS our final frontier, and that frontiers are essential for the advance of humanity, and for advance of individuals within the community of man..... let us join together and shoot for the stars, ad astra."


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