Today’s Houston Chronicle report that Houston-area congressman John Culberson wants to introduce “revolutionary change” to NASA by completely restructuring the 50-year-old agency. Culberson, a bona fide space geek (in the best sense of the term), wants to model NASA on the National Science Foundation so it can “be driven by the scientists and the engineers” and “be free of politics as much as possible”.
How exactly Culberson proposes to do that isn’t clear: he hasn’t drafted any legislation on this, he told the Chronicle (which means that there’s no chance of anything happening on it this year), and didn’t go into details about how NASA would be transformed. While NASA and NSF are often closely linked as “science” agencies (although NASA is more than just science), the two organizations are very different, and it would seem at first glance very difficult to convert NASA into an NSF-like organization. For example: NASA has tremendous amounts of infrastructure, from field centers to space hardware; NSF, by comparison, has very little. Would NASA retain that infrastructure after that transition? If yes, how would it be run differently? If not, who (if anyone) would take if over, and how would they operate it for NASA?
The Chronicle notes that Culberson also made comments during an online town hall meeting earlier in the week that, on their surface, appeared to be disparaging towards NASA. “We’ve spent a fortune on NASA, and we don’t have a whole lot to show for it,” Culberson was quoted as saying, adding that “NASA wastes a vast amount of money.” Some might argue that those statements aren’t that controversial, but in the Houston area, they did generate a backlash from Culberson’s Democratic opponent and Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), whose district includes JSC. “It’s times like these when I’m relieved – and I know my constituents are relieved – that I’m the representative of JSC,” Lampson told the paper.