Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

In a floor speech honoring the nation's federal employees, Sen. Kaufman applauds Orlando Figueroa for his work at NASA

September 16, 2009

Mr. KAUFMAN. Mr. President, I rise once again to recognize the service of one of America's great Federal employees.

Last week I spoke about an outstanding public servant who refused to give up when she was faced with life-changing trauma. My friend Vice President Biden says America's greatest attribute is that when it gets knocked down, it gets right back up.

Perseverance is one of our national strengths. It has seen us through the lean years and the times of war. It has also seen us through the setbacks of our march of science and discovery. In one such setback a few years ago, NASA experienced a string of failures to land an exploratory probe on Mars. After the inspirational voyages of Viking 1 and 2, which landed on the red planet of the 1970s, NASA did not send spacecraft to the surface of Mars for 20 years. After a brief but successful return in 1997 by the Mars Pathfinder, NASA prepared a series of missions aimed at exploring the Martian surface and laying the groundwork for a future astronaut mission.

The enthusiasm at NASA and in our Nation's scientific community quickly turned to disappointment as two consecutive missions failed to reach their destination. Some of my colleagues may remember how frustrating it was to learn that one craft burned up in Mars' atmosphere because a contractor measured in English units instead of the metric system used by NASA.

When Orlando Figueroa took charge of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover project in 2001, he set out to change the mood. Optimism and excitement had long been the driving force behind NASA's successes, and Orlando knew that despite recent setbacks, NASA could once again achieve and inspire.

Less than 3 years later, under Orlando's leadership, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover project successfully landed some of the most advanced technology ever created onto the Martian surface.

He pushed his team to look forward, not backward, and Orlando's leadership was critical as the team faced challenges in advance of a rapidly approaching launch date.

The Mars Exploration Rovers--called Spirit and Opportunity--successfully landed on opposite ends of Mars in January 2004 after a 6-month journey.

Together, they traversed several miles of the planet's surface and captured over 100,000 high resolution photographs for use by scientists studying the Martian climate and soil.

The tests conducted by Spirit and Opportunity have brought our researchers closer to finding evidence of water and possibly past life on our neighboring planet.

The Mars Exploration Rover project also reignited the imaginations of countless students.

I have spoken a number of times already about the importance of supporting education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or ``STEM.'' The success of Orlando and his team at NASA contributes greatly to our efforts to renew interest in space exploration and scientific discovery among our Nation's youth. It was this same enthusiasm that first led us to orbit the Earth and reach the Moon.

Orlando exemplifies the kind of perseverance endemic to America's civil servants.

He and his team demonstrated once again that our Nation, when we get knocked down, can get back up and accomplish any task we set for ourselves.

It was for this reason that Orlando was awarded the Service to America--Federal Employee of the Year medal in 2005.

I hope that all the members of this body will join me in recognizing the important contribution made by Orlando Figueroa and all of the hard-working employees of NASA.

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