Perhaps it was the fact that the berthing took place on a Friday of a holiday weekend, with Congress in recess. Or, perhaps, members thought they said enough with the successful launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 in the early morning hours Tuesday. In any case, the reaction from members of Congress to Friday morning’s successful grappling and berthing of the Dragon by the International Space Station got less of an official reaction from members of Congress than the launch itself.
“I congratulate SpaceX and its employees for accomplishing another historic feat today when its Dragon capsule successfully berthed with the International Space Station,” said Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), whose district includes Cape Canaveral, in a statement Friday. “The completion of today’s space mission further underscores what’s possible when American scientists and engineers accept tough challenges and take another important step in U.S. space leadership.”
Posey was the only member to comment on both the launch and berthing, but a couple new voices expressed congratulations on the achievement. “This is a historic milestone for space exploration and an important achievement for the commercial space industry. We no longer live in a world where space is only explored by government agencies, and we should all take pride that an American company is the first to accomplish this mission,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (F-FL) in a statement Friday. “If the promise of the International Space Station (ISS) is to be achieved, it is essential that a reliable and cost-effective means to transport cargo to the ISS be available. Today’s successful berthing of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to the ISS is an important step on the path to demonstrating operational commercial cargo transport support for the ISS,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of House Science Committee, in a statement by the committee’s Democratic leadership that also included comments from Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), ranking member of the committee’s space subcommittee.
Not everyone was in a congratulatory mood, though. “The reality remains that SpaceX has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to launch a rocket nearly three years later than planned,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times. “The ‘private’ space race is off to a dilatory start at best, and the commercial space flight market has yet to materialize.”
The White House, as one might expect, was in far more effusive in its praise for the successful berthing, seeing it as validation of the administration’s emphasis on commercial spaceflight. “That is exactly what the President had in mind when he laid out a fresh course for NASA to explore new scientific frontiers and take Americans ever deeper into our Solar System while relying on private-sector innovators—working in the competitive free market—to ferry astronauts and cargo to Low Earth Orbit and the International Space Station,” Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director John Holdren said in a statement. “It’s essential we maintain such competition and fully support this burgeoning and capable industry to get U.S. astronauts back on American launch vehicles as soon as possible.” OSTP also issued a selection of quotes from “space community leaders”, ranging from Norm Augustine to Sir Richard Branson to Steve Sqyures.
Also included in that statement were quotes from two former astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Rusty Schweickart. While they expressed congratulations for the berthing, other retired astronauts have been more skeptical of commercial ventures. Their criticism—and their recent silence—did not escape the notice of journalist Miles O’Brien during a commercial space panel Saturday at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington. “I haven’t heard any of the ‘national heroes’ congratulating Elon Musk,” he said. “It would be kind of nice and gentlemenly if they would.”