Column: Ohio still First in Flight

Rob Portman - Guest columnsit

Here in Ohio, we have a rich history of pushing the boundaries of flight. In fact, in 2003, Congress officially designated Ohio as the “Birthplace of Flight” thanks to the Wright brothers, who were born and raised in Dayton. It was in their Dayton bicycle shop more than a century ago that the miracle of human flight was conceived. From those humble beginnings onward, Ohio has never stopped leading the way in mankind’s journey to the skies and beyond.

At the height of the space race with the Soviet Union, it was Ohio astronauts who led the way in staking out new and exciting horizons in the heavens. One of my Ohio predecessors in the U.S. Senate, John Glenn, became the first American to orbit the Earth back in 1962. Jim Lovell, a son of Cleveland, piloted the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, overcoming technical difficulties and leading the first crew to orbit the Moon. Neil Armstrong, originally from Wapakoneta, Ohio, and then a resident of Cincinnati, went a step further when he became the first person to walk on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago last month.

In all, Ohio has produced two dozen astronauts, more than any other state, and many more now call it home. In June, I had the honor of announcing with Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol Armstrong, that the Smithsonian will be bringing a special temporary exhibit on the Apollo 11 mission called “Destination Moon” to Cincinnati’s Museum Center starting next month.

Ohio also houses some of the most impressive aerospace facilities in the world. Those include the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, hundreds of private companies — including the headquarters of GE Aviation — as well as world-class facilities to support NASA and its partner agencies.

In Northeast Ohio, the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and its Plum Brook Station Testing Facility in Sandusky are critical to NASA’s new projects. Right now, they are playing a leading role in the Artemis Program, NASA’s ambitious effort to put the first woman and the next man on the moon within the next five years. Alongside NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, I visited these facilities Wednesday to see the important work they’re doing to prepare for our return to the moon, as well as our eventual journey to Mars.

The engineers and researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center are developing the propulsion systems for Gateway, an outpost that will orbit the Moon and allow our astronauts unprecedented access to the lunar surface. In Sandusky, at Plum Brook, they are testing critical components of the rocket engines that are scheduled to carry Artemis astronauts into space starting next year. Both of these facilities possess testing capabilities that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, including the Vacuum Facility Solar Simulation Chambers at the Electric Propulsion and Power Laboratory at Glenn and the Hypersonic Wind Tunnel and Space Environments Complex at Plum Brook.

Plum Brook is bringing jobs and investment to Ohio in support of the private sector and other governments, as well. Today, they are working with the European Space Agency to provide the most advanced testing in the world to chart out the future of long-range space exploration.

These state-of-the-art facilities aren’t just good for the brave men and women venturing into the cosmos, they’re also good for Ohio. The Glenn network of facilities contributes more than $1.4 billion to Ohio’s economy every year, employing more than 3,400 civil service and support contractor employees, and creating more than 7,000 jobs overall in fiscal year 2017.

By having NASA in Ohio, it helps the private sector, too. 124 Ohio-based suppliers have lent their support to NASA’s Artemis program, developed in part at Glenn and Plum Brook.

For all these reasons, it’s important that we continue to support NASA’s critical operations here in Ohio. I’ve continuously fought in Congress to make sure the Glenn network gets important research missions and the resources it needs to accomplish those missions. I’m pleased that the President’s fiscal year 2020 budget request contains a robust level of funding for the critical NASA mission in Ohio.

Ohio is unrivaled in aerospace. On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I have proposed a new recognition of the historic accomplishments and distinguished career of one remarkable Ohio aerospace leader. Along with my colleague, Sherrod Brown, I will soon be introducing legislation that will rename the Plum Brook testing facility after Neil Armstrong.

For more than a century, Ohio has led the way in flight and space travel. Let’s build on that proud heritage as we prepare for mankind’s next great voyage to the stars.

Rob Portman

Guest columnsit

Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website,

Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website,