The North Bend Eagle


The final flight: space shuttle Discovery

The Fort Report by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry
Released 4/20/12

Most mornings in my Washington office are filled with a flurry of paperwork: news reports, correspondence, briefing materials, scheduling requests. A routine session of this work Tuesday morning was interrupted by the roar of a jet outside my office window. Aides and I paused to look on in awe as the Space Shuttle Discovery glided past on the back of a NASA 747 transport jet. I called over to the window a startled constituent from Fremont, who happened to be in the office for a meeting, for a view of the historic moment.

Discovery in many ways exemplifies the tremendous innovation and success of the American space program. Since its maiden flight in 1984, it has flown more than any other spacecraft, completing 39 missions and spending a total of one full year in space. It has flown assembly missions to the International Space Station and performed key research missions, flying the Hubble Space Telescope. On its final voyage Tuesday, Discovery cruised over our nation’s capitol. The spacecraft was headed to its new home at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum near Dulles International Airport just outside of Washington. I recall my own childhood memory of the fuzzy television images and crackling voice of Neil Armstrong when he first stepped on the moon.

Space exploration and research has been integral in the development of modern society. NASA’s research has yielded everyday products such as the cellular phone, memory foam, and the insole. Other lifesaving inventions such as the insulin pump for diabetic patients, prosthesis material, and the Jaws of Life attribute their genesis to space travel. Space flight has also taught us much about international relations. Nebraska Astronaut Clayton Anderson mentioned to me that one of the greatest experiences of his career was having meals and sharing stories with Russian cosmonauts each night in the International Space Station. Once great rivals in space exploration, cosmonauts and astronauts have found a way to work together in the harshest environment known to man.

The end of the Shuttle program is another reminder of the need to return fiscal stability to the federal government. Due to budget constraints, NASA’s Constellation project, originally slated to replace the now-completed Shuttle program, was suspended in 2010. With no alternative American vehicle for space travel, U.S. astronauts must now rely on the Russian space program for transport to outer space.

The future of our space program will depend on the fiscal realities balanced with the quest for scientific discovery. In tribute to the Discovery’s last flight, I invite you to view a conversation I had with Mr. Anderson upon his return from a Discovery mission. You can find our discussion at my website

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