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Houston Chronicle: Trump signs Cruz-Nelson NASA bill: 'the next chapter of human space exploration'

By: Kevin Diaz

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a sweeping NASA policy bill Tuesday, reinforcing the space agency's commitment to human space exploration and a long-term trajectory to Mars.

"For almost six decades NASA's work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on Earth," said Trump, flanked in the Oval office by an array of NASA officials, astronauts, and Texas lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Lamar Smith and John Culberson.

"With this legislation, we support NASA's scientists, engineers, astronauts and their pursuit of discovery," Trump continued. "It's been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA, human space exploration, space science and technology."

The $19.5 billion measure, the first major NASA policy bill in seven years, is also an important jobs initiative for Texas, Florida and California, extending a number of critical space programs such as the Hubbell Telescope and the International Space Station. It also continues to transition a number of critical space agency activities to the commercial space sector, including ferrying U.S. astronauts to the space station and ending NASA's reliance on Russia.

The heavy Texas contingent in the Oval Office was a sign of the space agency's importance to the Lone Star State, particularly Houston's Johnson Space Center. Babin, whose district includes the space center, called it "the next chapter of human space exploration."

Trump paused before signing the bill to remark on the difficulty of being an astronaut.

"It's a pretty tough job," Trump said, turning to Cruz. "I don't know Ted, would you like to do it? I don't think I would."

According to a press pool account of the signing, Cruz shook his head indicating that he would not want to be an astronaut. Trump then turned to Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"Marco, do you want to do it?" Trump asked.

Cruz offered his own suggestion:"You could send Congress to space," he said.

"We could," Trump said, turning to look at Vice President Mike Pence. "What a great idea that could be."

Trump handed out some of the pens he used to sign the bill, then was presented with a NASA astronaut flight jacket on behalf of the agency.

"Does anybody have anything to say? Ted you want to say something?" Trump asked. Cruz called the bill "terrific" and thanked the president.

"Marco?" Trump then asked, turning to Rubio.

"I'm happy to see that Florida is going to continue to do more than Texas is," Rubio quipped.

"It's going to be a good competition," Trump said turning to Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. "Right Kevin?"

Culberson also addressed the gathering, comparing the bill to President Dwight Eisenhower's initiative to build the nation's interstate highway system. "Just as Americans remember that President Eisenhower was the father of the interstate highway system, with your bill signing today and your vision and leadership, future generations will remember that President Donald Trump was the father of the interplanetary highway system," he said.

"Well that sounds exciting," Trump said, adding, "First we want to fix our highways. We're going to fix our highways."

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