Cruz calls for 'bold vision' for future space exploration at Senate hearing

NASA is aiming to put the first woman on the moon by 2024 — and Amelia Gillespie already has plans to be the first woman on Mars.

“It’s not just men up there anymore. It’s women too,” the 9-year-old future astronaut said as she watched a congressional hearing on the future of NASA’s space exploration in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing this month.

Sporting a blue NASA flight suit from Space Camp, Amelia stood out in the halls of Congress, where she was the youngest spectator at the Senate aviation and space subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Amelia and her mother, Kerry, had driven from Annapolis to meet and listen to the NASA engineers who testified before the panel, chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican.

Among the panel of witnesses: Gene Kranz, flight director of the Apollo 11 moon mission and author of “Failure Is Not an Option”; Homer Hickam, a retired NASA engineer and author of “Rocket Boys”; and Christine Darden, a former NASA data analyst and aerospace engineer whose work on the Apollo program was featured in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Mr. Cruz said NASA and the U.S. need a “bold vision” for the next 50 years of space exploration, and he called upon the witnesses to explain what they want for NASA’s future.

“The objective of space exploration for NASA is to go to the red planet and land on Mars, and the first boot to set foot on the surface of Mars will be that of an American astronaut,” the senator said.

The witnesses spoke broadly about the possibilities of space exploration and of a trillion-dollar space industry.

“I’d like to see families raised on the moon,” Mr. Hickam said. “I’d like to see blue-collar workers, miners getting money in their pockets.”

Ms. Darden said the space agency’s plans to return to the moon will revitalize an interest in space that was lost after the Apollo Program.

“A thriving, visible Artemis Program will do much to inspire the next generation to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] careers just as I was inspired,” she said, referring to NASA’s project to put a woman on the moon by 2024.

Most of the witnesses suggestions and ideas are years away from being realized. NASA is planning to have a permanent human presence on the moon by 2028 and land on Mars within the next 20 years.

Mr. Kranz said this is an exciting time for NASA, which had been in chaos since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. He said the agency couldn’t focus on what the next goals were for exploration.

“We need to restore the passion, energy and imagination,” Mr. Kranz said.

That passion and imagination were apparent in Amelia, who sat in the middle of audience but was barely able to see above the heads of adults in front of her. Her eyes lit up as she talked hopefully to her mom about meeting one of her heroes — Mr. Kranz, who greeted her with a high-five and gave her one of his NASA pins for her suit.

She says she wants to be an astronaut or an aeronautical engineer, like Mr. Kranz and Ms. Darden.

“Designing rockets and satellites, and stuff, I really want to do that,” she said.

Clutching her space encyclopedia and books on the Apollo missions, Amelia said she wants to know more about exploration.

“I really love space,” she said. “It’s sort of the last frontier that man doesn’t really know about, and there’s always so much more to know.”



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