Ed Markey
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee, has not been active on space issues but is outspoken on climate and the environment. Credit: Office of Sen. Markey

WASHINGTON — Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee have named Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as the ranking member of the subcommittee with oversight of space issues.

Markey will be one of six Democrats on the space, science and competitiveness subcommittee, which deals with NASA and related civil space issues. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led the subcommittee in the previous Congress as well.

Markey replaces Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who was the ranking member of the subcommittee in the previous Congress. Peters, who will remain on the subcommittee, was instead named the top Democrat on the oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee.

Peters, despite coming from a state not traditionally associated with spaceflight, was active on space issues in the previous Congress, co-sponsoring NASA authorization legislation as well as a space weather prediction bill. He spoke briefly as a Coalition for Deep Space Exploration reception here Feb. 14, saying he would continue to work to ensure the space industry had the resources and “steady path” it needed.

Markey, who joined the Senate in 2013 after a long career in the House, is not known for his interest in space. He has, however, been active on climate and environment issues, which are expected to be key topics in the new Congress.

“He is a great supporter of science and scientists and will be a tireless defender of Earth Science,” tweeted Laurie Leshin, the president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and a former NASA official, about Markey’s selection to serve as ranking member of the subcommittee.

Nice! Congrats @SenMarkey! He is a great supporter of science and scientists and will be a tireless defender of Earth Science. https://t.co/BnZK5z26Y3

— Laurie Leshin (@LaurieofMars) February 15, 2017

The full committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), will also likely play a major role in space-related issues the subcommittee addresses, given his long-running interest in the subject.

While the subcommittee deals with science issues broadly, space policy is a major aspect of its activities. The subcommittee held only four hearings in the previous Congress, but two were about NASA.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the full committee, announced subcommittee assignments for Republican members last month. The full roster of the space committee is below.

Ted Cruz, Texas, Chairman
Jerry Moran, Kansas
Dan Sullivan, Alaska
Mike Lee, Utah
Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia
Cory Gardner, Colorado

Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts, Ranking Member
Brian Schatz, Hawaii
Tom Udall, New Mexico
Gary Peters, Michigan
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin
Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...