The space shuttle Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday, wrapping up its 39th mission—and also its final one, as the shuttle program approaches its end later this year. Several members of Congress, and one former member, used the occasion to both congratulate NASA on the completion of the mission and express their views about space policy.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), the ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which has oversight of NASA’s budget, said he called NASA administrator Charles Bolden shortly after the shuttle landed. Fattah said he congratulated Bolden on the mission and also “pledged to Bolden that he would be working to resolve outstanding budget issues involving NASA”, according to the statement from the congressman’s office. “Today’s end of mission is the beginning of NASA’s ‘tomorrow’ – a range of new missions and innovation that will serve as a continuing investment in our economic and technological future,” Fattah said in the statement. “As a NASA appropriator I am pledging that we will continue to provide the space agency with the resources it needs to retain world leadership in space exploration and to ensure the broader benefits that all our citizens will realize from these efforts.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, also congratulated NASA on the mission but said the agency needs to press ahead with a successor system. “In celebrating an historic era of Space Shuttle Discovery flights, we must not lose sight of our commitment to move forward without delay on the next generation of United States human spaceflight systems that will sustain our leadership and continue to inspire new achievements in the human exploration of outer space,” she said in the statement.
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes KSC, pledged her continued support for human spaceflight in a post-landing statement. “As this era comes to an end, it is more important than ever that we don’t lose sight of NASA’s human spaceflight program, and that is why I will continue my efforts in the House to keep human space flight as a top priority of NASA,” she said.
A similar sentiment came from Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), whose district includes JSC. “America has always been the leader in human space exploration and we must continue that commitment with the next generation vehicle that will surpass the glory of Discovery and the shuttle program. That is the purpose and benefit of our nation’s investment in science and exploration,” he said in a release.
Former Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT), who flew on Discovery on mission STS-51-D 1985, is mourning the end of the shuttle program, telling the Deseret News that it is a “huge, huge mistake” to retire the orbiters. He told the paper that “the congressional will to de-fund the [shuttle] program is a decision ‘I don’t even comprehend.'” (He doesn’t offer a strategy for finding a way to both pay for continued shuttle operations and develop a successor system, especially in an era of fiscal conservatism, beyond noting NASA’s budget is a tiny part of the overall federal budget.) He concludes: “I am sad not only for Discovery, but sad for the technology we lose in all of this.”