A Houston Chronicle article Monday notes that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) now has considerable influence over NASA in the Senate: she chairs both the science and space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee as well as the commerce, justice, and science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, both of which have oversight over NASA. She tells the Chronicle that she has been “very concerned about NASA’s drifting” in recent years, adding that “I think we now have a chance to refocus NASA and fulfill its mission and have a vibrant purpose.”
And what is that purpose? She tells the paper that her priorities for NASA are “return to flight, finishing the space station, and renewing the commitment to science, which the space station is essential to do.” (Some scientists might quibble with that last point.) She is particularly concerned about a potential multi-year gap between the retirement of the shuttle, around 2010, and the first manned flights of Crew Exploration Vehicle, currently planned for no later than 2014. “I believe it is a security risk to our country to have a five-year lapse,” she said. “We know now that Japan is looking at sending people into space. For America to go on a vacation for five years is unacceptable.” Again, some might argue with her logic.
Another interesting note that she is backing away from her previous support for a Hubble servicing mission, now saying that she would back such a mission only so long as it does not “take away from the capability to return to flight, finish the space station and do what we need to do to keep going towards Mars.”
She plans to lay out the case for her shuttle-and-station priorities with a pair of hearings planned for April and May. The April hearing will examine the future of the shuttle, including the possibility of flying the shuttle after 2010, while the May hearing will look at the ISS and scientific research there.
One thing the article does not touch upon is Hutchison’s future political plans. It is an open secret that she is considering a run for Texas governor in 2006, and will likely have to make a decision on her plans in the near future. If she does run, she may well be distracted from much of her Senate work, particularly since she will face a bruising primary fight against incumbent governor Rick Perry. In addition, Hutchison is up for Senate reelection in 2006, so if she decides to run for governor she’ll be a lame duck in the Senate, regardless of how the gubernatorial race turns out.