Madam Speaker, from the dawn of civilization, man has peered out into the heavens and dreamt of exploring the vast expanses of our universe. During the past half century, from America's first satellite, the grapefruit-sized Explorer I, to the International Space Station now being built 200 miles above us, human beings have begun to learn how to operate in the harsh environs of space.
Our unmanned space probes--from the Ranger and Surveyor craft that paved the way for Apollo to the Voyager spacecraft that explored the outer planets--continue to increase our understanding of the universe. Everyone of the ambitious American space probes that has visited another planet has been managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
It is for this reason, I am proud that the conference report covering NASA operations includes full support of the work of JPL on the Mars exploration program and the Space Interferometry Mission.
NASA's Mars exploration program embodies the President's vision for space exploration. It will expand our knowledge of one of our neighbors in the solar system and pave the way for a manned mission to Mars. NASA's search for planets and life beyond our solar system is also having increasing and dramatic success with more than 150 planets now discovered. With full funding, the Space Interferometry Mission will examine over two thousand stars for planetary systems, fulfilling a critical step in the search for Earth-like planets.
For their strong support of this vision, I would like to thank Chairman LEWIS and Ranking Member OBEY. I would also like to thank Chairman WOLF and Ranking Member MOLLOHAN for meeting on several occasions to discuss the important work of JPL.
In addition to expanding our reach into the depths of the universe, the space research program at JPL will have additional benefits here on Earth. According to economists, investment in research and development has one of the highest rates of return in the long-run. While public investment in research and development in other nations has increased in recent years, it has stagnated in the United States. Full funding for the work at JPL demonstrates our continuing commitment to research in the sciences.
The space exploration program also has an impact on young people. Generations of students have been inspired to enter scientific fields by stunning images from the heavens. The funding for cooperative education programs between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Griffith Observatory recognizes the importance of encouraging more students to enter scientific fields.
With our commitment to the programs at NASA's Jet Propulsion laboratory, we are pursuing both the human quest to understand our universe and the American quest for continuing leadership in space exploration.