Texas' congressional delegation presented a united, bipartisan front on Friday, saying President Barack Obama's compromise on his space budget doesn't go far enough and calling upon him to visit Johnson Space Center.
Meeting with the media in the shadow of a massive Saturn V rocket like those that blasted Apollo astronauts to the moon, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and four Houston-area representatives said America must not lose its capability of launching U.S. astronauts into space.
Obama has submitted a budget to Congress that directs NASA to abandon its efforts to develop an Earth-to-orbit rocket. Under the plan NASA would rely on Russia to launch Americans to the International Space Station for the next few years, eventually to be supplanted by commercial rocket providers.
Since releasing his budget proposal in February, Obama has faced criticism from space advocates in Texas, Florida and elsewhere, former astronauts such as Neil Armstrong, and Texas lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
“I don't want to walk away from what we have invested and try to turn it over to people who are going to start from scratch,” Hutchison said.
The president moved to mollify some of the criticism in a speech Thursday at Kennedy Space Center during which he outlined moves to reduce Florida job losses due to the end of the space shuttle program, and restored a piece of NASA's Constellation program — a down-sized Orion capsule — that was eliminated in his initial budget.
Politics play a role?
The Texas congressional delegation welcomed the hint of compromise but said it did not go far enough.
“We still have a long way to go before I feel comfortable with what we're going to do for the American people and Johnson Space Center,” said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat. “The Texas delegation is united. Democrat and Republican, we're working together.”
The politicians expressed concern that Obama chose to make his speech in Florida, rather than Texas, and noted that the compromises outlined by the president largely benefit Florida and Colorado, two swing states won by the president in 2008. Texas voted overwhelmingly for Republican John McCain.
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican whose district includes Johnson Space Center, urged the president to visit Houston to understand the potential losses to U.S. spaceflight capabilities.
“We will use every legislative, legal and political tool at our disposal,” said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Republican. “There truly is virtually no support for the president's budget in Congress.”
Each Texas politician also expressed continued support for Constellation, NASA's plan to develop rockets to blast astronauts both to the space station and the moon, as well as a spacecraft, Orion, in which to carry them. NASA has spent about $9 billion on Constellation, which is managed in Houston.
While the politicians were making their case in Houston, 200 miles above the Earth the crew of space shuttle Discovery were making preparations to leave the space station after a successful mission. Weather permitting, the shuttle will land Monday morning.