As Congress debates NASA’s uncertain future and more than 7,000 Floridians’ space-related jobs are in jeopardy, political leaders and policy experts say the United States must make space exploration a national priority.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson opened a Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government symposium at the University of Central Florida by urging the House of Representatives to act immediately. He lobbied for approval of a Senate bill that he said would preserve about 4,000 Florida jobs connected with the space program and keep the United States involved with the International Space Station at least through 2020.

Nelson, who flew aboard Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, and other speakers touted many scientific advances made possible because of space travel. They include the invention of air bags that save lives in vehicle crashes and satellite technology that tracks hurricanes, helping people prepare for and escape them.

“Florida’s Future: The Space Program and Beyond” also featured presentations by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas; Frank DiBello, president and chief executive officer of Space Florida; Randy Berridge, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council; John Adams, president of Enterprise Florida; and Leslie Molony, senior director of Business Development at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

More than 1,000 people attended the symposium in the Student Union, and the crowd included hundreds of students from UCF and area middle and high schools. The program also was webcast to a national audience.

The Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government is a nonpartisan organization housed in the UCF Department of Political Science. The institute promotes civic education and engagement, particularly among young people. Institute programs encourage informed discussion of issues from diverse viewpoints, stimulate participation in the political process and support research on politics and policy.

Lou Frey, the institute’s founder, represented Central Florida in Congress from 1969 to 1979.  Last year, Frey was honored with the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress’ Distinguished Service Award for his efforts to improve civic education and encourage young people to be more actively involved in their government.

Sponsors for the symposium were the Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed law firm; the UCF Department of Political Science; the UCF College of Sciences; the UCF Global Perspectives Office; the United States Association of Former Members of Congress; and the U.S. Department of Education.

For more information, visit the Lou Frey Institute’s website.