What the new Transportation Secretary thinks about commercial space

When the incoming Obama Administration picked Ray LaHood to be Secretary of Transportation in December, many commercial space advocates breathed a sigh of relief, as they had been concerned that Congressman James Oberstar, who opposed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, might get the job. LaHood, though, was something of a cipher to the commercial space community: he never really dealt at all with space issues of any flavor during his tenure as a Republican congressman from Illinois. What were his opinions, if any, on commercial space transportation?

A partial answer—one that was unsurprising but encouraging—came Thursday at the FAA’s annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Crystal City, Virginia. Keynote speaker Thomas Barrett, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation (and a holdover from the Bush Administration), apologized to attendees that LaHood could not be there in person: LaHood was, in fact, at a train station in Maryland with Vice President Joe Biden, promoting funding in the stimulus package for mass transit. However, Barrett said that he had brought up commercial space transportation with LaHood shortly after he became Transportation Secretary. “It’s on his radar. He’s interested in commercial space,” Barrett said. “I told him about my experience with this program and my enthusiasm for it and for the people who are in it. And he said, ‘I don’t know a lot about that. I’d really like to learn more.'” Barrett added that he found that attitude “refreshing” and “very positive”. “He wants to learn, and he’s a quick learner.”

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