On July 20th, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew marked an unprecedented journey, inspiring human exploration for generations to come. Astronaut Neil Armstrong reported the landing of the first manned mission on the moon with the assuring words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
While the world held its breath watching Armstrong’s first steps live on television, engineers and scientists in Houston worked tirelessly from Mission Control on the safety and success of the mission. Communicating constantly with Apollo 11’s crew, Houston’s NASA facilities ensured that the giant leap for mankind brought pride for Texans and Americans around the world.
July 29 marked the 53rd year since President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. With the goal of pioneering American space exploration and the impetus of the global space race, NASA sought to do as none had done before. It was in 1961 that NASA established the site that would make Texas integral to American spaceflight.
The Manned Spacecraft Center, renamed the Johnson Space Center in 1973 for Texas native President Lyndon B. Johnson, has housed facilities crucial to the nation’s space program for five decades. Teams in the Mission Control Center have helped direct every human mission since 1965, including the Apollo missions as well as 135 shuttle flights. The International Space Station Flight Control Room communicates with the space station and coordinates shuttle missions. Various scientific research facilities foster space technology innovation and oversee experiments. The Training Flight Control Room prepares astronauts for the demands of space travel with simulations. Without a doubt, the Johnson Space Center has been vital to NASA’s vision to “reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”
The Johnson Space Center has contributed intellectual and cultural vitality to Texas as well. With about 3,000 civilian employees, 110 astronauts, and thousands of contractors, the Space Center community has transformed Houston into a hub of aeronautical innovation and collaboration. United in this presence, space has become integrated into the culture of Houston. Games, tours, and exhibits at the Space Center Houston attract visitors from around the world. Even the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Houston Astros, and their NBA team, the Houston Rockets, are named after the city’s unique contribution.
This past month, we were reminded yet again of Texas’ significant achievement. Welcomed by cheers and support, the four astronauts who flew space shuttle Atlantis’ final mission returned home to Houston on July 22nd. Though this was a bittersweet moment, Texans have much to be proud of in decades of remarkable service, innovation, and exploration for our country. The unprecedented accomplishments of the Johnson Space Center and the men and women hard at work there pushed Texas to the forefront of spaceflight. In spite of the conclusion of the shuttle program, our great state will persist in leading the next generation of human exploration, and will no doubt continue to bring pride and success to Texans and our nation.
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.