WASHINGTON — The surprise announcement by House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that he would resign from Congress may clear the way for a staunch supporter of the commercial space industry to ascend to the top post in the chamber.
Boehner, who has been speaker since January 2011, announced Sept. 25 that he would resign at the end of October. He did not immediately give a reason, although he had been facing growing challenges to his leadership from some conservative members of the House.
The leading candidate to succeed Boehner is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is second only to Boehner in the House Republican leadership. His district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, a commercial spaceport that is home to several space companies, including Masten Space Systems, Stratolaunch Systems and Virgin Galactic.
McCarthy is widely considered to be a strong supporter of the commercial space industry, sponsoring the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015. That bill, which the House passed in May, extends current restrictions on the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate safety of people flying on commercial spacecraft, and continue the current system of third-party indemnification of commercial launches. That bill is being reconciled with a similar bill the Senate passed in August.
In a May 21 speech on the House floor during debate on the SPACE Act, McCarthy said he supported the bill to make the U.S. more competitive. “In space, we are losing our ability to lead,” he said. “We once stood up to the challenge of the Soviet’s Sputnik and made it to the moon, but today, our astronauts use Russian rockets.”
McCarthy’s potential elevation to House speaker immediately drew praise from one longtime commercial space advocate. “McCarthy is the strongest supporter of commercial space in the Congress,” said James Muncy, principal of space policy consultancy PoliSpace, who called the SPACE Act the “most significant” piece of commercial space legislation since the original Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. “This is cosmic in its impact on U.S. space policy.”