House Science Committee chairman to retire

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Science Committee, announced Nov. 2 that he will not run for reelection in 2018.

In a brief statement, Smith, first elected to the House in 1986, cited “several reasons” without elaboration for his decision not to run for a 17th term in 2018, without elaborating.

“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” said Smith, who will turn 70 later in November. “I hope to find other ways to stay involved in politics.”

Smith is best known in the space community for serving as chairman of the House Science Committee. Smith is in his third term as chairman of the committee and, under the rules of the House Republican conference, was not eligible to continue as chairman beyond this term.

Smith has often clashed with Democratic members of the committee on topics such as climate change and the environment. However, he has found bipartisan common ground on space issues, including NASA authorization legislation enacted earlier this year as well as commercial space regulatory topics.

“We’re going to give some stability and continuity to our space program, that’s what often times been missing,” Smith said in a January interview with SpaceNews when asked about his priorities for the committee in this term. “We want to make sure that our major programs continue from one administration to another. I think we’ll succeed in doing that.” He reiterated in that interview, though, his opposition to the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which NASA subsequently cancelled.

Smith, however, has been critical of what he deemed to be an overemphasis on Earth science spending at NASA during the Obama administration. “There are a dozen other agencies that investigate climate change, and there’s only one agency that explores space. I would like NASA to focus more on that mission,” he said in the interview.

He has also given particular, but positive, attention to the nascent field of astrobiology. As chairman of the committee, he has held several hearings on the efforts to detect life beyond Earth, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. A hearing in April, for example, featured both the head of NASA’s science mission directorate as well as a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

“I think that whole subject is fascinating. Every year we have a hearing or two on that,” Smith said in January of his interest in astrobiology. “If we find some Earth-like planet that has methane and oxygen in the atmosphere, whether it’s in ten years or whenever, I think that’s going to be one of the most astounding discoveries in humankind’s history.”