WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate’s space subcommittee vowed May 8 to block any attempt by the administration to end operations of the International Space Station in the mid-2020s.
Speaking at the Humans to Mars Summit here by the Mars exploration advocacy group Explore Mars, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said ending federal funding of the station in 2025, a proposal included in NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, ran counter to existing laws calling for its continued use beyond 2024.
“As long as I am chairman of the space subcommittee, we will not be phasing out the ISS as long as there is scientifically usable life and we can continue to extend that,” he said. “It would be irresponsible not to get the maximum return from that investment and to extend the life of it as long as it is scientifically feasible.”
His comments were not the first time Cruz spoke out against a potential mid-2020s end of the station. When that provision of the budget request leaked ahead of its official release Feb. 12, Cruz criticized it, going so far as to call those in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget who reportedly included it “numbskulls.”
“As long as I’m chairman of the science and space subcommittee, the ISS will continue to have strong and bipartisan support in the United States Congress,” Cruz said at a Feb. 7 speech at a commercial space transportation conference.
“I’m aware that there are some voices in this town that are pushing for phasing out the ISS in 2025,” Cruz said in his latest speech, not directly referencing the White House. “The ISS is a resource that we’ve invested billions of dollars into, that our allies have invested billions of dollars into. We’ve seen enormous scientific discoveries.”
The Senate has yet to take up a fiscal year 2019 spending bill for NASA or hold a hearing on the administration’s budget request for the agency. A House spending bill introduced May 8 includes $150 million for commercial low Earth orbit development, part of the transition from the ISS to commercial facilities, but the bill makes no explicit endorsement of ending the station in the mid-2020s.
A NASA authorization bill approved by the House Science Committee April 17 also did not take a strong position on ending the ISS in the mid-2020s. “The plans laid out in the ISS transition report are conditionally flexible and require feedback to inform next steps,” the bill states, referencing an ISS transition report requested by a prior authorization bill and delivered to Congress earlier this year.
“In addition, the feasibility of ending direct NASA support for ISS operations by the end of fiscal year 2024 is dependent on many factors, some of which are indeterminate until the Administration carries out the initial phases of the ISS transition plan,” it states.
Cruz’s subcommittee is working on its own NASA authorization bill, he said, along with an updated commercial space bill. The House passed its own commercial space bill, the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, on a voice vote April 24.
Cruz said he expected that those bills will be done on a bipartisan basis. “We will continue to have bipartisan cooperation when it comes to space,” he said, despite partisan disputes on almost every other issue.
He also praised new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Jim Bridenstine is a good man, he is a good friend,” Cruz said of the former Oklahoma congressman. “It’s unfortunate that Jim’s nomination was tied up in partisan wrangling for over a year. I fought tooth-and-nail to move Jim forward for confirmation.”
Cruz said he believed that Bridenstine, among other things, will advocate for increased public-private partnerships in agency activities. “I am confident that Jim, leading NASA, is going to continue on the path we’ve seen” regarding such partnerships, he said. “If we are going to go to Mars — and we are going to go to Mars — nobody thinks that is going to be driven solely by public funds from the taxpayers.”