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NASA lost key support to explore Jupiter's moon
BY MARK R. WHITTINGTON, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 11/23/18 09:00 AM EST 39
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF
One of the casualties of the 2018 midterm elections may be NASA’s plans
to explore Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to have a warm-water ocean
beneath an icy surface and, perhaps, alien life. Rep. John Culberson, a
Republican from Texas, an appropriations subcommittee chairman who
championed efforts to explore Europa, was defeated at the polls by
Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, a corporate lawyer. It was even the subject of
a Culberson attack-ad.
And also, other party:
NELSON CONCEDES, SENATE WILL LOSE KEY NASA SUPPORTER
By Marcia Smith | Posted: November 18, 2018 5:02 pm ET | Last Updated:
November 18, 2018 11:10 pm ET
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) conceded to Governor Rick Scott this afternoon
in the hotly contested Florida Senate race. When Nelson leaves the
Senate at the end of the 115th Congress, it will lose one of NASA’s
strongest supporters. Coupled with the loss of Rep. John Culberson
(R-TX) in the House, the agency will be facing a new congressional
landscape next year.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson’s considerable influence on Senate space legislation is based
both on his seniority — he is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce,
Science, and Transportation Committee that oversees NASA — and his
stature as the only serving Senator who has himself flown in space.
As a Congressman, Nelson flew on the space shuttle in January 1986, the
flight just before the Challenger tragedy.
During his years in the Senate, he has had a marked influence on NASA.
He and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) were largely responsible
for crafting Congress’s response to President Obama’s decision to cancel
the Constellation program, which rankled both Democrats and Republicans.
While Obama succeeded in terminating the mid-sized Ares I and big Ares 5
rockets being built for Constellation, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act
directed NASA to build a new big rocket anyway — the Space Launch System
(SLS). It also directed NASA to build a Multi-Purpose Crew Spacecraft
(MPCV) to go with SLS and NASA decided to keep the Orion spacecraft
already under development for Constellation. While Bush’s goal of
returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020 gave way to Obama’s focus
on humans orbiting Mars in the 2030s, Nelson and Hutchison ensured that
the major transportation elements needed to enable sending astronauts to
either destination continued — and as NASA programs. That remains
controversial since some think the private sector can build rockets
better than the government, but it was a favorable outcome for NASA.
Obama did achieve his goal of transitioning the development of new crew
transportation systems to low Earth orbit (LEO) from NASA to
public-private partnerships — the commercial crew program underway today
— but Nelson and Hutchison battled with his administration to ensure
adequate attention and resources were allocated to SLS versus commercial
More recently, Nelson has been in the forefront of efforts to keep the
International Space Station (ISS) funded past the Trump Administration’s
deadline of 2025 for ending direct government financial support.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Commerce Committee’s space
subcommittee, and Nelson have legislation right now that includes a
provision to continue government funding of ISS until 2030. With
Nelson’s departure imminent, they may try to finalize something before
the end of the year that incorporates that and perhaps other elements of
pending House and Senate space bills that address both NASA and a range
of commercial space issues.
Florida is home to Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, so any Florida Senator is likely to fight for those interests,
but it is not clear how strongly Scott feels about these issues compared
to others that face the state. Florida’s other Senator, Marco Rubio
(R), has not made space one of his major issues although he was the key
vote to confirm Jim Bridenstine as NASA Administrator. Nelson and Rubio
both opposed Bridenstine initially, and Nelson kept all 49 Senate
Democrats in the “no” column. Rubio eventually changed his mind and
voted yes, making the vote 50-49 in Bridenstine’s favor.
Senator-elect Rick Scott (R-FL).
Whether Rubio or Scott will step up to fill Nelson’s pro-NASA shoes for
Florida remains to be seen. Scott visited the Space Coast during his
campaign blaming Nelson for not protecting the area “from the economic
hardship of Obama’s NASA cuts” and taking credit for adding 25,000 new
jobs there as Governor.
NASA surely will continue to have advocates in the Senate. Sen. Richard
Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations
Committee, is another strong supporter, at least of efforts centered at
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Cruz is a champion of NASA
human spaceflight activities — Johnson Space Center is in his state —
and of commercial space and U.S. leadership in space overall. Sen. Chris
Van Hollen (D-MD), who replaced Sen. Barbara Mikulski and won a spot on
the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, fights for
activities at Goddard Space Flight Center, especially space and Earth
Nelson’s departure is still a significant loss for the agency. At the
same time, Culberson, an ardent advocate for planetary science,
especially missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa, lost his reelection bid.
He chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House
Appropriations Committee, a key funding position. The House will be
under Democratic control next year, so he would have lost his
chairmanship in any case, but his personal commitment to Europa and
space science could have continued even if he was in the minority. Who,
if anyone, will become the new cheerleader for planetary science with an
equivalent powerful position in the House remains to be seen. Rep. Jóse
Serrano (D-NY), currently CJS Ranking Member, could become the new CJS
chair and he seems quite supportive of NASA, but how the agency would
rank on his priority list against other activities funded by that
subcommittee is the multi-billion dollar question.
Several weeks remain in the 115th Congress where Nelson and Culberson
can try to finish some of the work they have started. On the
authorization front, the Senate has one bill and the House has three
that address a range of NASA and commercial space issues. On
appropriations, the CJS bill has not yet been brought to the House or
Senate floor for debate and is likely to be combined with other pending
appropriations bills. The goal is to pass them before December 7 when
the Continuing Resolution (CR) now funding NASA and many other agencies
expires. Substantial hurdles remain, not the least of which is funding
for President Trump’s border wall that likely will be in the same
appropriations bundle, however.
As for Nelson, in a video announcement this afternoon he focused not on
his defeat, but on the work ahead. Space is among the causes he intends
to keep fighting for:
“As a country, we need to continue to launch rockets and explore the
“I have seen the blue brilliance of the earth from the edge of the
heavens. And I will fight on to save this planet, our homes and our
cities, from the spreading plague of the greenhouse gases that infect
our atmosphere, and play havoc with our weather, and risks the planet
our children and grandchildren will inherit.” — Sen. Bill Nelson
Rubio paid tribute to Nelson in a tweet.
No two Senators had a better working relationship than Senator Nelson
& I. We often voted differently,but not once did it interfere with our
ability to work together. He served with a decency & dignity that is
increasingly rare in politics.
I will miss working with him#Sayfie
Nelson for U.S. Senate
Well, things turned out a little differently than we had hoped, but I by
no means feel defeated. That’s because I’ve had the privilege of serving
the people of Florida for most of my life. It’s been a rewarding journey
and a very humbling experience. No one could be more blessed.
2:51 PM - Nov 18, 2018
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Only one Senate race remains undetermined now — Mississippi. A run-off
election will be held on November 27 between Sen. Cindy Hyde-White (R),
who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Thad Cochran in April, and
Mike Espy (D). A candidate must receive 50 percent of the vote to win
in Mississippi and neither did. Hyde-White got 41.5 percent, while Espy
got 40.6 percent.
At the moment, next year the Senate will have 52 Republicans and 47
Democrats (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats).
This article has been updated with the tweet from Sen. Rubio.
Last Updated: Nov 18, 2018 11:10 pm ET