On Feb. 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover and Mars Helicopter complete their 203-day voyage from Cape Canaveral to the surface of Mars, where the probes will search for potential traces of past life and scout out future routes to explore the Red Planet.
It’s the latest in over 60 years of accomplishments for NASA, a decades-running source of pride and unity for our nation. Space exploration has created tens of thousands of jobs in Florida alone. It has spawned entire new sectors of advanced manufacturing, generating amazing technological innovations in our state. Winning the Space Race helped America gain a critical edge over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and, as China continues to execute on its own plan to explore — and dominate — the solar system, we must make sure we’re prepared for a new contest among the stars.
Today, the responsibility falls on the Biden administration and Congress to make sure NASA and our commercial space industry have the resources and opportunities they need to win once more.
The first Artemis mission is scheduled later this year to launch an unmanned capsule 40,000 miles beyond the moon to demonstrate the program’s performance capacity. After that, Artemis II will send four American astronauts around the far side of the moon, by far the farthest man has ever traveled from Earth. Finally, Artemis III will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024, marking the first time a human being will have stepped foot on the moon since Apollo 17 over 50 years ago.
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Artemis will require channeling the best of American ingenuity through serious government investment in coordination with private companies. But the benefits of such coordination extend far beyond any single mission. Our space program is a source of dignified work for Americans across the country, providing stable, well-paying jobs.
I see the benefits firsthand. In Florida alone, NASA contracts in 2019 totaled $1.4 billion, creating over 33,000 jobs and generating more than $200 million in tax revenues for our state and local governments. NASA jobs are also extraordinarily productive, with high employment and output multipliers — for every one located in Florida, an additional 15.4 are supported.
From my position on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, I will work with the Biden administration to deliver the resources necessary to ensure America’s return to the moon happens on schedule. President Biden should commit to continuing to prioritize deep space efforts like the Perseverance rover, as well as exploration missions like Artemis and, further down the line, manned flights to Mars. These are complementary with science missions such as those ongoing aboard the International Space Station, and his administration should not prioritize one at the expense of the other.
America’s future is pointed toward the sky, with Florida serving as the nation’s gateway to the stars. As we celebrate the touch-down of Perseverance and prepare for Artemis’ launch, Republicans and Democrats must come together to authorize the resources needed to explore that next frontier, so we can continue creating good jobs, beating China in the new space race, and inspiring Americans for generations to come.
This op-ed first appeared here