Ehlers Puts Education Over Space

January 15, 2004
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — President George W. Bush’s vision of returning human beings to the moon and possibly traveling to Mars is an inspirational goal, Congressman Vern Ehlers agrees, but it is a vision that comes with peril and a huge price tag.

Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, a nuclear physicist by training and a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee, added that any effort to expand the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) must be matched by an increased commitment to improving math and science education among the nation’s children.

“I applaud President Bush for his ability and willingness to articulate a broad, far-reaching and inspirational vision for NASA and the future of space exploration. Without a doubt, NASA has lacked an appropriate guiding vision for far too long, as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board sadly concluded,” Ehlers said in response to Bush’s announcement from NASA’s Washington headquarters.

“However, we must temper our enthusiasm for the president’s vision with the realities that face us. Completing the International Space Station, developing a new manned space vehicle and mounting missions to the moon and Mars all will take vast amounts of dedication, effort and money to accomplish. New technologies will have to be developed both for efficient propulsion of new interplanetary space vehicles and to ensure the safety and life support of the astronauts who take on these perilous missions.”

He added that if the United States is serious about expanding NASA and its mission, it also needs to be serious about expanding the math and science education programs so that it can develop the scientists and engineers trained to do the work the program will ask of them.

This is an effort that Ehlers has championed for many years and one that Congress has been expanding, but he now sees the president’s proposal dramatizing the need to accelerate the efforts to improve math and science education.

“Much of what we seek to do in space right now can be accomplished by robotic and other means of unmanned exploration, and I am happy to hear the president indicate his support for this kind of work,” said Ehlers. “However, it is not inappropriate to envision a long-term future of human space exploration, as long as we understand and commit ourselves to the development and education costs involved in achieving that vision.”           

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