June 16, 2021

Van Hollen Questions NASA Administrator on Investments in Wallops Flight Facility & Strengthening Partnerships with Maryland’s HBCUs and MSIs

Administrator Commits to Funding for Wallops Bridge, Supporting HBCUs and MSIs in Maryland

During a hearing before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), questioned NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on the Agency’s commitment to investing in projects crucial to Maryland. Senator Van Hollen stressed Maryland’s essential role in furthering NASA’s mission, and pressed Administrator Nelson on funding for NASA Goddard and the Wallops Flight Facility, a key economic driver on the Eastern Shore. The Senator also discussed NASA’s partnership with Maryland’s HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI), and the importance of boosting their research capacity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. A full transcript of the Senator’s exchange is available below, and the video is available here.

U.S. SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): Mr. Administrator, it’s great to see you. I look forward to working with you on the important mission you have before you. You know well that your own state of Florida is a major center for space activities and exploration. I know you also know that Maryland has a major footprint when it comes to space, including the Goddard Space Flight Center; the APL, the Applied Physics Laboratory under Hopkins; Space Telescope Science Institute; and Wallops, which is not physically located in Maryland, but a majority of the great people who work there live in Maryland.

So, I just want to again renew the invitation from Senator Cardin and myself to come with us to visit Goddard as well as Wallops. Are you still up for that?

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: I’m expecting to be at Goddard in the next two weeks, and it’s my understanding that the Vice President wants to go and wants me to tag along. And I think that’d be a great time for you and Ben Cardin to come along as well.

VAN HOLLEN: I appreciate that. We will definitely follow up with you on that. Thank you, Mr. Administrator.

In the prior Administration, we had a challenge getting them to budget for important scientific missions related to space. Fortunately, this committee, on a bipartisan basis, recognized the importance of those missions. And I am pleased to see that the Biden Administration budget – your budget – includes funding for the PACE program, for OSAM-1, and for Europa Clipper. I am grateful that that is included already in the budget.

I mentioned the Wallops Flight Center – and that is a center that is critical to our space and earth science missions. It’s a hub for unmanned flight. It’s a supplier to the International Space Station, and it’s home to NASA’s Balloon Program. One item missing from the budget that was submitted by the Administration is the 21st Century Launch Complex Program. We’ll be working again on a bipartisan basis, I hope, to make sure that we fund that important program.

I understand that you intend to request $5.4 billion for infrastructure in support of upgrading NASA’s facilities. I think I may have overheard some of the conversations – is that part of the annual appropriations, or did you say that’s part of the American Jobs Plan?

NELSON: That’s the jobs bill.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let me just say Goddard and Wallops both have a number of shovel-ready projects. Including, when it comes to Wallops, something called the Wallops Island Causeway Bridge – it’s the single access point to the Wallops Complex. It’s 60 years old, and it’s overdue for replacement. Could you agree that we will continue to work together to make those investments as well as investments in the 21stCentury Launch Program?

NELSON: As a matter of fact, Senator, your bridge is number one on the list. And absolutely. Of course, the President proposes , and you dispose, and so this is a partnership. As I had said to the Chair, there are more ways to skin a cat than one. And the jobs bill is an opportunity – not only for infrastructure but for R&D as well – which is desperately needed if we are going to have the competition for the human lander that we’ve been talking about previously in this hearing.

VAN HOLLEN: I appreciate that. As you know – and I know you agree – that we’re strongest when we put all of our talent out on the playing field. And that’s, of course, true in the area of STEM. Maryland has a number of terrific HBCUs and MSIs that are leaders in this area. Morgan State is among the top four colleges in the country graduating black engineers. It’s one of eleven HBCU’s that has an R2 Doctoral Research University Status. Bowie State is the first university to receive a satellite collaboration with NASA. And the University of Maryland Baltimore County has recently been awarded extended support by NASA for its Center for Research and Exploration in Space, Science, and Technology. 

I look forward to working with you on that – I think, Mr. Administrator, that this is a priority of yours – in terms of making sure that all of these universities are part of NASA’s efforts to strengthen STEM. Is that right?

NELSON: Yes, sir. And the President’s budget is very robust in STEM. It’s a significant increase. And by the way, this has a relationship to each of your states because the Space Grant goes into every state. For example, Minority University Research and Education Projects are another way to enable a greater opportunity to reach out to minority students.

So, I think you look at what we are confronting. You go back 50 years ago when we were going to the moon. It was the great Space Race with the Soviet Union. We did this tremendous successful feat of landing humans on the moon and returning. What did that do to education, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? For a whole two generations, that excitement about space flight rippled through those generations, and we saw the effect of that on our country – the economic renaissance that occurred as a result of the increased technology that had come out of that more highly STEM-educated workforce. I believe that’s what’s going to happen here. As we go back to the moon and to Mars, I think it’s going to excite another couple of generations of students. And as a result, we, the United States as well as planet earth, are going to be the beneficiaries.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Mr. Administrator.