The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science lauded Utah's role in space research Monday, saying the Alliant Techsystems rocket motor plant is the most efficient anywhere.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., toured Alliant facilities at the company's Bacchus Works, along with Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, who is a member of the committee. Stopping in the "Finishing 7" facility - a vast room where Delta II boosters get their final assembly - the two representatives said they were impressed with Alliant.The plant is "a state of the art facility," and helps to make America's technology the best in the world, Sensenbrenner said. The job of members of the Science Committee is to make sure that the technology stays at the top, he said.

"One of the real challenges that we face in Congress is to keep America's space business competitive," he said. Industries like Alliant must compete with satellite delivery services offered by countries that are not as tied to the marketplace, such as China, Russia and the Ukraine, he added.

It is robotic technology such as that used in Alliant in its rocket motor manufacture that keeps American private industry competitive in space systems, Sensenbrenner said.

Asked whether space research was worth the cost, he said, "For every dollar we spend on space, it puts back $7 to $9 in jobs here in America." In addition, the spin-off from space research has advanced many other fields, he said. These include such diverse industries as medicine, navigation and computers.

A main reason America's economy is doing well while Europe has double-digit unemployment and Japan hovers on the brink of depression, he said, "is because we've kept our technological superiority." Better technology means that American business is more productive, he added.

Cook said space and other scientific research is important to the businesses of the Salt Lake Valley. In addition to aerospace companies in the region, he also cited research carried out at the University of Utah. "There's no more important assignment I have than my position in the Science Committee," he said.

Later in the day, Sensenbrenner and Cook were to tour Myriad Genetics, a hotbed of genetic discoveries, Research Park; and NPS Pharmaceuticals, also in Research Park.