WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback today participated in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board report. His statement follows.

ìOn February 1, this country and the world suffered a terrible and tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia and her crew. Those seven astronauts were true explorers, they wished to serve their countries and they did just that. We are saddened by the events that took place on that fateful day. However, true to this country’s resolve, we have been determined to find and correct the cause and to move forward. To that end, I want to recognize the tremendous efforts by all the members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, especially that of Admiral Gehman and to thank them for their efforts. This was a monumental task that has been accomplished in an exemplary and accelerated manner.

ìIt is imperative that America remains at the forefront of space exploration and discovery, and it is our job here in Congress to take this report and move forward expeditiously in getting America back in space safely aboard an American vehicle.

ìI am committed to authoring a reauthorization bill for NASA during this Congress, and will use this report to provide some of the guidelines for that bill. I am also pleased to see that the Board recognizes the importance of a vision for a future in manned space exploration by Americans, and believe it is time to look at creating a Presidential Commission on the Future of Space Exploration to establish this common vision. I have held several subcommittee hearings over the last few months with not only NASA and other Federal Agencies but also with private sector companies and entrepreneurs in an effort to ascertain what America’s vision for future space exploration should be. In all of these hearings, one thing stood clear, Americans continue to support human space flight and exploration. NASA and space exploration remain a symbol of national pride.

“We cannot allow ourselves to give up and turn our backs on exploring space and the universe because we have suffered loss of life. Those are the risks we acknowledge and accept for the opportunity to improve the quality of life here on earth and beyond. We are tasked today with moving forward in ensuring America returns to flight. I am anxious to hear what NASA’s response is to the Boards report, but I am also very interested in where they plan to go from here.”

Brownback is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.