I wanted to be sure you saw the Op-Ed I recently wrote in the Daily Press on my vision for the future of U.S. policy in space and the role Hampton Roads can play in the decades ahead. Read here or below.
Yours in Service,
A springboard for adventure
By Congressman Randy Forbes
May 10, 2016
As is the case with many people my age, Cape Canaveral has a special place in my heart and my imagination. When I was a child, it was from "The Cape" that the most intrepid pioneers of our age set out on epic missions of discovery. And I will never forget the moment man set foot on the moon. But what I didn't know then, listening in awe to my car radio, was that some of the first and most important steps of mankind's epic journey to the Moon had been taken right here in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore.
Even those of us who have spent our whole lives in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore may not fully appreciate the critically important role that our region has played — and continues to play — in the exploration of our universe. A strong argument can be made, however, that the "giant leap" mankind made in 1969 started at the Langley Research Center on the Peninsula. It was right there in 1917 that the organization that would later become National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), established its first research center.
From the beginning, Langley focused on cutting-edge aeronautics research and the design of ever-better performing aircraft including the legendary P-51 Mustang of World War II fame. But in 1945, Langley Research Center set up an offshoot facility on Wallops Island to experiment with what was then a largely unproven but incredibly promising technology — rocket propulsion.
Wallops' rockets were initially used for propelling model aircraft—some of the first UAVs—but starting in 1958, when NASA was established, Wallops took on a new mission: putting men into space. Unbeknownst to many residents, the capsules that would carry the first Americans into space during Project Mercury were tested at Wallops right here on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Meanwhile, back at Langley, men who would soon have household names underwent training to become America's first astronauts. One of them, known around Virginia Beach for driving a flashy white convertible, was Alan Shepard, who would soon become the first American in space. A few years later, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would come to Langley to train in its lunar landing simulator for that day that my generation remembers so very well.
There is a tendency among air and space enthusiasts to focus on those glory days in the 1960s, but the decades since have witnessed many more accomplishments by the hardworking men and women of NASA. Langley Research Center has continued to push the frontiers of aerospace research and today, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's senior curator, "It's hard to think of an airliner in the air today that doesn't have Langley's signature on it" or "a military airplane flying today that Langley wasn't involved with in one way or another." Wallops Flight Facility, meanwhile, has continued launching rockets, and in September 2013 became the first place outside "the Cape" to send an American mission to the moon.
While Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore's space facilities have an incredible history to be proud of, the future looks equally bright. For both Langley and Wallops, good things appear to be in store. NASA's budget, which was submitted to Congress last month, contained a 10-year plan to reach "New Aviation Horizons" by building and flying a new generation of cutting-edge "X-plane" prototypes. The first of these experimental programs will be managed by the aerospace experts at Langley, with more projects likely to follow. Meanwhile, Wallops Island has developed into a viable commercial spaceport that is currently used by the company Orbital ATK to send resupply missions to the International Space Station. Looking ahead, as the commander of the Air Force's Space Command told me recently, Wallops could have growing utility as a site for launching a new generation of smaller military satellites with important national security missions. As one of only a handful of sites authorized by the FAA for the testing of unmanned aerial vehicles, Wallops could also play a major role in that dynamic market.
All these local contributions to air and space exploration should inspire in Virginians the same pride, optimism and excitement about future opportunities that I felt on that roadside in 1969. In many ways, Virginia represents a model for the future with its innovative partnerships between the commonwealth, the federal government, and the private sector. With its NASA facilities, military presence, universities, high-tech industry and supportive communities, Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore have all "the right stuff" to support future breakthroughs. As with any federal program, however, NASA's ambitious plans will need strong support in Washington to succeed. That is why I am establishing a congressional NASA caucus, to ensure that members of Congress are well-informed about the inspiring work NASA is doing and why it is so important.
With the 100th anniversary of NASA Langley's creation approaching, we should all be excited to see what new milestones in aeronautics, spaceflight and our understanding of the universe we can reach in the century ahead.
Read the full Op-Ed here.
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