WHITTINGTON: Can Ted Cruz Save The Space Program?

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Mark Whittington Contributor
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Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz finds himself in an interesting position in the new Congress.

He has been a champion of NASA and commercial space since he first entered the Senate six years ago. The last midterms, however, saw the exit of a number of space enthusiasts from Congress. Democrat and Republican Reps. Lamar Smith, John Culberson, Dana Rohrabacher and Sen. Bill Nelson have retired or been retired to private life.

Cruz virtually stands alone as a supporter of NASA’s mission and of the commercial space sector’s growth.

Since he is the chairman of the Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee, he has some power to save American space efforts from the tide of politics over the next two years.

Space exploration is supposed to be a bi-partisan topic these days. But Democratic Texas Rep. Bernice Johnson, the new chairwoman of the House Science Committee, seems more interested in climate change than in space exploration or growing private space companies such as SpaceX and Moon Express.

Democratic New York Rep. Jose Serrano, who took over the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA from Rep. Culberson, is a far-left, northeastern Democrat who has expressed little interest in space and likely has other priorities than returning to the moon.

Cruz, like the Civil War general he resembles now that he has a beard, is prepared to soldier on.

According to Space News, the senator addressed a meeting of the Space Transportation Association, where he announced that he is going to try to pass a new version of the Space Frontier Act, which is comprised of commercial space legislation, and a new NASA Authorization bill. He suggests that he will get both bills passed in a bi-partisan fashion.

One hopes that Cruz’s efforts will succeed. However, space support in Congress could fall prey to Trump Derangement Syndrome. Democrats once supported a border wall before opposing it. As returning to the moon and commercial space reform are both Trump initiatives the left might oppose both.

If Democrats turn on Trump’s space initiatives, Senator Cruz will have a huge headache on his hands. The world has gone agog at the landing of China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the moon’s far side. The next two lunar expeditions will be one from India and one sponsored by a private group in Israel. The commercial missions to the moon sponsored by NASA are due to start later in 2019 or more likely in 2020.

In the new race to the moon, just like the last one, America is starting from behind. China’s ambitions to turn the moon into a colony are well known.

Commercial space will be an important part of America’s economy in the 21st century.

Private business activities on the moon will progress beyond SpaceX’s launch services. Space tourism businesses such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will become the next big thing for the well-heeled and adventurous. Lunar and asteroid mining could spark a space-based industrial revolution. Mars beckons as a venue for exploration and perhaps as a second home for humankind.

Cruz will have many constituents to protect. Besides being home to the Johnson Spaceflight Center, Texas is the venue of many commercial space companies. Those companies include SpaceX which has built a spaceport at Boca Chica near Brownsville.

Incidentally, the company just announced that it will move the fabrication of its new Starship/Superheavy rocket from Los Angeles to south Texas, according to the LA Times.

All of the potential fortune and accomplishment that space exploration could garner the U.S. will fade away if the Democrats decide to “run train” over NASA and commercial space reform. Cruz and his friend, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former member of Congress, will have their work cut out for them. At stake is the question of which country will own the future, the United States or China.

Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.