When Sen. Ted Cruz took questions at a campaign town hall in Huntsville, Ala., on his bus tour of SEC country last week, a boy scout from the area raised his hand. But the Texas Republican called for the last question before his staff could get the presidential candidate's attention.
So CQ Roll Call approached the young man and his parents later that evening to ask what was on his mind. Nine-year-old Paul Byrd wanted to know what Cruz thought about the future of manned spaceflight. It was a good question, particularly in the northern Alabama city that is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Cruz, as it turns out, is chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. That panel held a hearing in February on goals for human exploration.
"Some 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s clarion call for the exploration of space for the betterment of all mankind, we’ve unfortunately lost sight of that vision. Now is the time to refocus our investment in NASA toward the hard sciences, on getting men and women into space, on exploring low-Earth orbit and beyond," Cruz said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "There's no question that manned spaceflight — whether it be back to the moon, to Mars, and beyond — is a critical and vital component of NASA's mission, and we must not lose sight of that in pursuit of political agendas."
Cruz, who makes his home in Houston, which is home to the Johnson Space Center, has previously expressed concern about the current arrangement that requires use of Russian Soyuz vehicles to get American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (a necessity since the end of NASA's shuttle program).
"Russia’s status as the current gatekeeper of the International Space Station could threaten our capability to explore and learn, stunting our capacity to reach new heights and share innovations with free people everywhere. The United States should work alongside our international partners, but not be dependent on them," Cruz said in January. "We should once again lead the way for the world in space exploration."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden informed Congress earlier this month the space agency would need to extend the contract with the Russians for seats on the Soyuz vehicles, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of about $490 million.
"Across the United States, aerospace engineers are building a new generation of spacecraft and rockets that will define modern American spaceflight. The safe, reliable, and cost-effective solutions being developed here at home will allow for more astronauts to conduct research aboard the space station, enable new jobs, and ensure U.S. leadership in spaceflight this century," Bolden wrote. "The fastest path to bringing these new systems online, launching from America, and ending our sole reliance on Russia is fully funding NASA's Commercial Crew Program in FY 2016."
Cruz has said he wants federal dollars focused on exploration, rather than "on political distractions that are extraneous to NASA’s mandate." He has criticized Bolden for the agency's involvement in climate change research.
"Texas has a major stake in space exploration," Cruz said in an official statement on taking the gavel of the space subcommittee. "Our space program marks the frontier of future technologies for defense, communications, transportation and more, and our mindset should be focused on NASA’s primary mission: exploring space and developing the wealth of new technologies that stem from its exploration."
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