Opinion Pieces

Houston's Johnson Space Center is still the undisputed leader in human spaceflight

Houston's Johnson Space Center is still the undisputed leader in human spaceflight 
Houston Chronicle | By U.S. Rep. Brian Babin
July 25, 2018 | Link

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” These eight historic words from U.S. astronaut, Neil Armstrong, after landing on the Moon nearly 50 years ago, are proudly cherished by the NASA Johnson Space Center community.

-President Kennedy and Congress to pursue the formidable challenge to explore beyond the confines of Earth, gave NASA the support needed to achieve the nearly impossible goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely home by 1970. JSC’s leadership and expertise in spaceflight operations were absolutely invaluable to NASA’s success. From that first moon landing in 1969 to today, when people think of human spaceflight, they think of “Space City” — Houston, Texas — the home of NASA’s iconic Mission Control.

Today, JSC’s operational expertise includes astronaut and flight controller training, extravehicular activity management, life support systems, as well as overall mission planning and execution. The program planning and integration required to manage the construction of the International Space Station over 13 years and 41 space missions was without parallel and is a testament to the capabilities of the NASA team at JSC. Nearly 18 years of continuous ISS operations further highlight JSC’s amazing expertise in human spaceflight.

The skills, expertise, and experience of JSC’s unmatched workforce extends well beyond human spaceflight operations and program management, to life sciences research that will enable long duration spaceflight, astromaterials research and curation, systems engineering, and program integration.

Unfortunately, our JSC community, and NASA as a whole, has faced enormous challenges over the past decade.

Most notable was the cancellation of the Constellation Program in 2010. The previous administration’s high-handed cancellation decision did serious harm to the space industry. The impact was even greater here in Houston because many NASA engineers, technicians and scientists were transitioning from work on the shuttle and ISS to Constellation. In one instant, these dedicated professionals found they had no place to go.

When this disaster hit, every NASA human spaceflight center went into survival mode — grabbing work wherever they could. Unfortunately, this meant that JSC lost key work to other centers.

Thankfully, the future of human spaceflight is bright once again.

The Trump administration has elevated space exploration to a national strategic priority, placing our civil space program and industry back into the global spotlight. JSC is well-positioned to benefit from this renaissance.

Congress, too, is unified in its support for NASA. In 2017, Congress passed the first NASA Authorization Bill since 2010, and it was one of the first bills signed into law by President Trump. For 2018, NASA received the highest budget in its history with JSC capturing a healthy portion. I authored the NASA Authorization Act of 2018, which passed out of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee with bipartisan support in April. Our bill reasserts JSC’s leadership role in human spaceflight, establishes a new JSC research office, and makes it clear that the ISS will continue operating per congressional direction.

As we have seen before, amazing things can occur when the White House and Congress are on the same page about our future in space. Like NASA of the 1960s, we are poised to again do great things. As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, I am committed to ensuring NASA and JSC have the clarity and resources needed to accomplish bold endeavors.

Technology continually changes the way space systems are developed and operated, but the constant is the dedicated workforce required for mission success. That workforce is right here at JSC, and I am incredibly honored to serve this dedicated NASA team in Congress.

In early August, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will visit JSC and I look forward to introducing him to our exceptional workforce. I am working closely with Bridenstine, JSC’s new Center Director, Mark Geyer, and the surrounding industry to ensure JSC’s role in leading NASA’s human spaceflight programs as we return to deep space exploration.

When we again land Americans on the Moon, then Mars, and beyond, I want to make sure that first word from that surface will always be, “Houston …”

Babin represents Texas’ 36th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.