There was a time in the not-too-distant past when space exploration was a great source of national identity and pride for the United States. 

In fact, space has always been a frontier where our country has placed several markers in history highlighting the achievements and the ingenuity of mankind and the fortitude of Americans. We’ve sent man to the moon and created a research and exploration space station that orbits the earth 16 times a day. We’ve even sent spacecraft to Mars to map and probe the red planet. Much of the innovation, planning and energy for these missions throughout NASA’s history has been focused on our region. 

There’s no denying the importance of these accomplishments through the generations and the role that the Johnson Space Center has played in each of these remarkable missions. From the International Space Station alone, the technological innovations developed aboard the craft have been life-altering: a method of delivering medication directly to cancerous tumors, a device that helps those with asthma breathe easier, a robotic arm that enables surgeons to perform their precise procedures inside MRI machines. These are only a few of the health-related advancements developed during missions aboard the space station.

This week, there is another mission taking place. It’s the annual trip to Washington, D.C., by the Citizens for Space Exploration. For more than two decades, this coalition of officials, students and educators has traveled to our nation’s Capitol to lobby for more funding for space programs. It’s an important advocacy trip organized by the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership because each year budgets are tight and there are many other spending priorities within Congress.

For years, funding for NASA and manned space exploration in general has eroded and Congress has consistently found other ways to spend monies that were once earmarked for mapping the universe, planning for return missions to the moon and embarking on our first manned space flight to Mars.

By meeting with Congressional representatives, the coalition hopes to garner additional support for future space exploration missions. 

Their trip takes on added significance because the House Appropriations Committee released its vision for the NASA budget this week. It calls for a significant level of support for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, including an exploration mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moon, by 2022.

Expanding space exploration and research, whether conducted by NASA or the blossoming commercial space industry, is vital not only to our local economy but to the future of our nation.

While the proposed NASA budget for 2016 is far from perfect — the appropriations committee recommends significant cuts to the agency’s Earth science program which studies climate change — it is a step in the right direction when it comes to exploration. Congressional representatives would be wise to approve this portion of the proposed NASA budget.

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