Sinema introduces NASA bill, supports STEM education pipeline

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last week championed a bill that advances Arizona’s space priorities, in part by supporting the University of Arizona’s NEOCam mission and the Mars 2020 mission, which will include Arizona State University’s “Mastcam-Z” mounted camera system.

“By investing in America’s leadership in space, our bipartisan bill strengthens our national security and creates economic opportunities for Arizonans,” Sinema said.

Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also backed the bill.

Before finalizing the bill — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2019 — Sinema met with Arizona stakeholders, including leadership from ASU and UArizona, to ensure the bill secures her state’s priorities.

Thursday, Sinema voiced her support for important partnerships between NASA and Arizona universities at a Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee hearing. She is a ranking member of the subcommittee.

Sinema also emphasized a strong need for an effective science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education pipeline to continue advancing the nation’s space and national security interests.

“NASA and universities must work together to develop a 21st-century workforce to continue our leadership in space and ensure our economy remains innovative and strong,” she said.

Sinema requested the hearing in order to highlight the value of NASA’s partnerships with ASU, UArizona and Northern Arizona University.

The senior senator invited Dr. Linda Tarbox Elkins-Tanton, an ASU professor who is leading the NASA Psyche Mission, to share her experiences as a principal investigator and the way her work advances NASA’s scientific and exploration goals, creating opportunities for students to develop skills that help them succeed in the space industry.

According to Sinema’s office, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2019 will do the following:

  • Ensure NASA can establish University Affiliated Research Centers — long-term research partnerships with universities that lead NASA projects and missions,
  • Give NASA contract authority to partner with universities on missions that help university space programs grow,
  • Establish the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which will fund the construction of UArizona’s Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam),
  • Require NASA to create an outreach program to encourage high school students to pursue STEM careers, building Arizona’s space workforce,
  • Direct NASA to complete the James Webb Space Telescope — a follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope that includes UArizona’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) — as soon as possible,
  • Authorize NASA to complete its Mars 2020 mission — ASU’s Mastcam-Z is the main navigation camera on the Mars 2020 rover — and work on the Mars Sample Return Mission, and
  • Require NASA to provide funding for small satellite launches conducting science missions, such as the ones developed by ASU, UArizona and NAU.

Graham Bosch

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