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Senator Bill Nelson on the Space Program

Senator Bill Nelson on the Space Program

By The Situation Room - July 20, 2009

BLITZER: All right. That's the space shuttle Endeavour. They're working hard at the International Space Station.

But let's talk about the future of space exploration with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He himself went into space aboard the shuttle Columbia back in 1986.

Hard to believe it's been that long, Senator Nelson.

David Bohrman is still with us, our Washington bureau chief.

The future doesn't necessarily look all that good. At a time of enormous economic pain, some folks are saying, you know what, it's nice to have space exploration, but the billions, the tens of billions could better be spent here on Earth.

You don't agree.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: You can do both. And, often, the two overlap.

Just think of everything that's come out of the space program that has helped our daily lives. Think about all the medical equipment. Think about the microminiaturization that came as a direct result of us going, and highly reliable systems that were small in volume and light in weight. And that -- that spawned a revolution in microminiaturization that we all benefit from now.

That watch is a part of it. So, you -- it's a question, can you do both? And the answer is, do we want to fulfill our destiny as a people, which is our character? We are explorers. We don't want to give that up, Wolf. Otherwise, we become a second-rate nation.

BLITZER: David has a question, too.

BOHRMAN: Well, no, I -- I think that it's -- it's -- you know, I remember, during those space program years, and especially as Apollo looked like it was ending, there was much discussion of why are we going to the moon.

I mean, we were fighting a war. We were having problems as a nation. And -- and I think people were searching for -- for a -- a simple answer. What's the one-line answer why we're going to the moon?

My sense is that you actually hit it, that almost everything that surrounds us in our lives today, in some way or another, came out of the push for science and technology. Computers, tech -- the power that we have in our portable phones, the way people are watching us globally around the world right now, the things we take for granted in our lives, arguably, came all out of that program.

BLITZER: But does the nation has that priority right now? Do you feel the president, for example, the Congress, this is a priority?

NELSON: I think that is to be determined.

And I think there's only one person that can lead the space program, and that is the president.

BLITZER: Because he punted, basically. He said, let's create a commission to study it.

NELSON: Well, he started to punt, but he became very specific as candidate Obama.

BLITZER: As a candidate. But, since becoming president, he's punted.

NELSON: No. Look who he got as the NASA administrator, astronaut Charlie Bolden, the best of the best.

He turned it over to a panel, trying to give him some...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you know Washington. Whenever you turn it over to a panel, what does that mean?

NELSON: Well, this is Norm Augustine. And I think he's going to come out and say that we have got to be bold. You have got to put the resources there. If you want to go to the moon by 2020, which is what the president has said, and if you want to go to Mars and beyond, if we want to find out what we are and where we are in this cosmos, then it's got to be led by president.

BLITZER: Good luck.

NELSON: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in on this historic -- on this historic hour.

NELSON: It is very historic.

I was in -- as we were landing, I was in London as an Army lieutenant. And, of course, I had to get up in the middle of the night. And, then, when they got out, it was really up in the middle of the night.

BLITZER: All of us who lived through that area will -- that era will remember exactly where we were.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

The Situation Room

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