“On Saturday February 1st of this year, seven brave explorers gave their lives in the pursuit of greater knowledge about the universe.  The loss of Columbia and her crew, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, & Ilan Ramon was a tragedy we will all remember.  Part of memorializing the crew will be how we respond to this tragedy.  Today was a major milestone toward our nation resuming human space flight operations with our venerable Space Shuttles.

“Under the leadership of Ret. Admiral Hal Gehman, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) has done an outstanding job at looking into the causes of a catastrophe the likes of which had never before been seen.  I have briefly reviewed on the major salient points of the report and I am satisfied that we have identified the proximate causes of the loss of STS-107.  I will, however, in the coming hours, days and weeks study the entire report.

“The physical cause – the foam impacting the RCC – is no surprise to anyone.  In fact almost right from the beginning of the Shuttle program in the early 1970’s there was grave concern about the Shuttle Thermal Protection System (TPS) being mortally wounded by ice and debris shedding off the External Tank (ET) during launch. 

“The recommendations focus mainly on physical causes and organizational/cultural causes.  The onus is now on NASA to take these recommendations to heart.  It is, however the duty of Congress, to provide oversight and financial assistance where needed to aid NASA in being able to operate the Human Space Flight Enterprise in a safer and more robust fashion.

“Admiral Gehman is 100% correct in that we are at a watershed moment in space exploration in this country.  It’s high time we have a national discussion on America’s future in space.  It’s a discussion at least twenty years overdue.

“That said, I plan on working diligently with The White House, NASA and my colleagues in the Congress to ensure NASA is given a healthy budget which allow the Shuttles to resume operations, complete construction of the International Space Station and we develop a robust Orbital Space Transport capsule system to fly atop our EELVs as soon as possible.

“I will be sending a letter to the President that I hope will be considered as the White House prepares its reaction to the CAIB Report.  I will also be asking Chairmen Young and Walsh of the House Appropriations Committee for the appropriate hearings as we work on the FY 04 NASA budget.  I will say that I have already taken action to secure funding for new tools and equipment at the Kennedy Space Center.  In the longer term, I think we need to increase NASA’s budget by 25% in the next three years.

“In the final analysis, this report has charged Congress and the White House with the task of helping NASA.  In doing so we have the responsibility of helping a “new” NASA emerge.  One that is ready to meet the challenges of the future. As in times past, the continuance of American space flight must, once again, become our national imperative.”