The outcome of the 2008 Congressional elections had little influence on the standing of space in the Senate. The most prominent advocates of NASA and space policy, including Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) were not up for reelection this year. One senator with a strong interest in military space issues, Wayne Allard (R-CO), did not run for reelection; his seat was won by Mark Udall, who had been chair of the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. Overall, little change.
The story, though, is different in the House, and for space advocates not for the better. In addition to Udall, two other House members, Bud Cramer (D-AL) and Dave Weldon (R-FL), also did not run for re-election; both served on the Appropriations Committee, although not on the subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA. A bigger blow, though, were the reelection defeats of Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and Nick Lampson (D-TX); Feeney had been the ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, while Lampson had been promised the chairmanship of that subcommittee had he won.
While these members are generally being replaced by new Congressmen who are, at least on paper, similarly supportive of space (one exception is Udall’s House successor, Jared Polis, whose campaign web site doesn’t include space, science, or technology among his issues), they’ll be at the bottom of the seniority ladder. It will be an opportunity for other members to step up, such as Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who had been the vice-chair of the space subcommittee and presumably would be in line to chair the subcommittee after Lampson’s loss. The chair and ranking member of the full science committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Ralph Hall (R-TX), will be back, as well as another staunch space advocate on the appropriations committee, John Culberson (R-TX). It will, though, be a time of transition in the House just as NASA approaches its biggest transition since the end of Apollo.