ARLINGTON, VA-NASA stands front and center as the most visible representation of the U.S. space program and is critical to the United State’s future leadership and competitiveness, said Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) Vice President of Space Systems J.P. Stevens, in testimony to the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

“Over the last 50 years, space technologies have increasingly become an important part of our nation’s economic, scientific and national security fabric,” said Stevens. “However, other nations are making rapid advancements, and our leadership in space is no longer guaranteed.”

AIA strongly supports the current proposed NASA budget of $18.7 billion; however, Stevens noted that zero growth is budgeted through 2013.

“This is a real concern. The Chinese absolutely want to send humans to the moon and are putting in the resources to make it happen,” said Stevens. “If we continue to delay our programs, it’s quite possible that the Chinese will return to the moon first.”

Stevens made a number of recommendations regarding NASA reauthorization, including treating the U.S. Space Exploration Policy and Constellation Program as a national priority to minimize the impending gap in U.S. human spaceflight.

He also urged funding for NASA in a number of other critical areas be strengthened-including aeronautics-for timely development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System and education initiatives to attract youth to careers with NASA and the aerospace industry.

Finally, Stevens said that the Commercial Space Launch Amendment, which expires this year, needs to be renewed to keep the U.S. space launch industry healthy.