— When the 111th Congress is seated in January, NASA will lose a few key allies in the House of Representatives but gain a new supporter in the Senate.
Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), the current chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee, won the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). In a radio interview the morning after his victory over former congressman Robert Schaffer, Udall mentioned aerospace alongside energy and telecommunications as areas vital to ensuring continued
House leaders had announced earlier this year that Udall would be succeeded as the space and aeronautics subcommittee chairman by Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas). The early nod was intended to help Lampson hold onto the suburban
congressional seat he won in 2006 when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stepped down amid an ethics scandal.
But while Democrats made broad gains in the Nov. 4 elections that swept BarackObama to the White House, voters in the Republican-leaning district sent Lampson packing, electing former Republican Senate aide Pete Olsen returning the seat to GOP hands.
Lampson first was elected to Congress in 1996 and represented thousands of
employers until DeLay engineered a redrawing of
‘ congressional districts that favored Republicans. In Lampson’s case, the redrawn 9th district omitted most, if not all, of his NASA constituents, leading to his 2004 defeat. When Lampson returned to Congress in 2007, he picked up where he left off, championing NASA’s causes as a key member of a House action team focused on space issues.
Jim Muncy, a space policy consultant and former House Science Committee staffer, said losing Lampson will be a blow to NASA, particularly its human spaceflight programs. “I think the election results were devastating for human spaceflight and space commerce,” Muncy said. “We just lost a bunch of people all at once.”
In addition to Lampson, voters also said no to another term for Florida Rep. Tom Feeney, the ranking Republican on the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee. Feeney first was elected in 2002 and soon emerged as a strong voice not only for NASA’s
but for various commercial space efforts as well. He was defeated by Democrat Suzanne Kosmas, a four-term member of the Florida House of Representatives who hit Feeney for his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Kosmas told the Orlando Sentinel she is interested in a seat on the House Science and Technology Committee.
With the loss of Lampson and Feeney, the Science and Technology committee will be searching for a new chairman and a new ranking member for the space and aeronautics subcommittee. Some of the names being mentioned for chairman include Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), David Wu (D-Ore.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Melancon is the subcommittee’s current vice chairman, while Wu has more seniority but no NASA installation back home. Giffords, while relatively junior, could get the job if only because her marriage to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly gives her a strong space connection.
NASA also lost two reliable votes on the House Appropriations Committee to retirement.
Rep. Robert “Bud” Cramer, a Democrat representing
, hung it up after 18 years with his seat going to Democrat Parker Griffith. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Kennedy Space Center-area Republican who fought for NASA on the House Science Committee before moving up to appropriations, will have served 14 years by the time he calls it quits. His seat went to Bill Posey, a fellow Republican and
Looking beyond NASA, the Nov. 4 elections brought the defeat of
‘s Steve Pearce, a Republican House member who gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful Senate run against Tom Udall, Mark Udall’s cousin and fellow congressman. Pearce was considered by commercial space advocates to be a strong supporter in
of his state’s efforts to build a commercial spaceport for the likes of Virgin Galactic and other suborbital operators.
, meanwhile, rejected a one-eighth of one percent gross receipts tax increase to help fund Spaceport
. Backers of the spaceport told the Las Cruces Sun News that the $198 million project would go ahead without the aid of the roughly $7 million the tax would have raised.
On the military space and missile defense fronts, the retirements of Allard and Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) will be felt as a loss to those communities. Allard remained active on space even after leaving the Senate Armed Services Committee for a seat on Appropriations, while
served on House Armed Services’ strategic forces subcommittee with oversight of missile defense and the House Permanent Select Intelligence subcommittee that oversees the nation’s spy satellite programs.
In a development that could be a net positive for some segments of the aerospace community, this year’s elections saw the retirement of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a senior member of House Armed Services and a staunch proponent of the export controls that have been vexing to many U.S. space firms doing business abroad. Hunter’s seat was filled by his son, Duncan D. Hunter, Jr., who shares his father’s interest on defense issues, but lacks the clout that comes with nearly three decades in Congress.