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When I heard President John F. Kennedy’s famous Rice University speech declaring America’s mission to the moon, like so many Americans, I was deeply inspired by the president’s call and wanted very much to be a part of it. I was just 15 years old at the time, but I immediately decided that whatever it took, I was going to have my fingerprints on that rocket. A little over five years later I had the opportunity of working on the Apollo program as an inspector with McDonnell Douglas. It was an exciting experience, and I am both grateful and humbled to have been a part of it.

The United States remains the only nation to have landed humans on the moon and returned them safely to Earth. It is among the greatest achievements in the history of the human race, and it has significantly contributed to America’s leadership on the world stage. The Apollo Missions opened the door to other significant accomplishments, like building Space Shuttles to test the limits of human space flight, prolonged robotic exploration of Mars, launching a space-based telescope that can see far beyond our solar system, and conducting scientific research on the International Space Station.

Our space program is important to our economy, national security, scientific discovery, technological advancement and the survival of our species. So much of our modern-day life is dependent on space — making a bank transaction, for example, or even a phone call these days requires using some type of space-faring technology. From GPS to life-saving medical research and advanced agriculture, hybrid car batteries and even Posturepedic mattresses, our investment in space has spawned some truly amazing innovations and has a positive impact on our nation and the world.

If we want to continue to see the fruits of that investment, NASA should follow through with plans to return to the moon as a stepping stone to reaching Mars and beyond. The foundation for such a bold mission is already being laid, but NASA needs to lead the way forward. In 2010, Congress authorized construction of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) as a successor to the Space Shuttle that will be capable of launching both cargo and human crews into space. The idea is to build a powerful rocket that will enable humans to return to the moon and eventually travel to Mars and other deep space destinations. The SLS and its Orion crew capsule have received strong, bipartisan funding support by Congress, and each day we are a step closer to returning to the moon.

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