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Local astronaut speaks at US Capitol

Special to the Courier

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Congressman Lamar Smith hosted Apollo astronaut and Kerrville resident Gene Cernan for a screening of "The Last Man on the Moon," a documentary on Cernan's life. The event took place on Thursday, April 30.
"Gene traveled from Texas to be with us this evening. He is a genuine American hero, not just for coming from Texas, but for what he's done as an astronaut," Smith said. "Gene owns a ranch in Kerrville, Texas, and you'll see some of the beauty of the Texas Hill Country in this movie."
Smith first met Cernan when Cernan and Neil Armstrong testified before the Science Committee in September 2011. "At that hearing, Gene's advice to young people was to 'never stop shooting for the Moon'," Smith said.
In his autobiography, Cernan observed: "Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance."
Smith described Cernan's words as "Sage advice to those of us in Congress, by someone who understands the value of inspiration and his role in turning dreams into reality."
Prior to the event, Cernan addressed lawmakers about the importance of leadership in space exploration. He noted, "This is not a film about me. It's a film about a young man, a kid with a dream, who was fortunate enough to be born at a time when America understood exceptionalism. It took my producer a long time to convince me to do this film.
"I asked him 'Who wants to hear about me?' And he said, 'It's about the story.' So this film is not just about me, it's about a young boy with a dream."
In addition to the screening, Smith's Science, Space, and Technology Committee also approved a two-year NASA Authorization bill on Thursday that seeks to restore balance to NASA's budget and supports space exploration systems needed to take US astronauts back to the Moon or to Mars.
A budget-neutral bill, the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017 continues the consistent guidance Congress has given to NASA for nearly a decade by reaffirming a stepping-stone approach to exploration.
The bill's policy provisions largely mirror that of the House-passed NASA Authorization Act of 2015 - a one-year bill that passed with unanimous bipartisan support in February 2015.
"This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that NASA will continue to innovate and inspire. The Authorization levels for FY16 and FY17 included in this bill provide NASA with the resources necessary to remain a leader in space exploration in a time of tight budget realities," Smith said.
"For more than 50 years, the US has led the world in space exploration. We must restore balance to NASA's budget if we want to ensure this country continues to lead in space for the next 50 years. And we must continue to invest in NASA as the only government agency responsible for space exploration."