After a couple of years of tumult and turmoil, one of the few members of the US Senate who is active on space issues says she’ll leave the institution this year “excited” about the future of NASA.
“I am just very excited that we are now going forward, I think, with NASA in a good position,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) at a Women in Aerospace breakfast at the US Capitol Tuesday morning. Hutchison, who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is retiring when her term ends this year. “I feel like I will now be able to leave Congress at the end of this year knowing that we are going to have a commercial operation that is sound, with competition.”
That’s a reference to NASA’s commercial crew effort, which will make at least two full awards, and perhaps a partial or “half” award to a third company, later this summer. “What Congress is trying to shape is that we have at least two competitors, not no more than two and a half, because we want to have full funding of competition while at the same time we are not neglecting the next generation of space exploration that is going to propel us to places we haven’t been,” she said, referring to NASA’s work on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion spacecraft. “That is the essence of American superiority, that we will always be looking to that next future.”
Later, in response to a question about international cooperation, Hutchison cited the need for NASA to be both a leader and a reliable partner. “We have to show that we are leading the world in the vision for space exploration and the benefits the world economic situation will gain. But, number two, we have to keep our word,” she said. “We can’t do this alone. We have to have an international consortium.” NASA, she said, wavered on its commitment to the ISS for a time. “We’ve got this investment [in the ISS] and yet we let the shuttle lapse, instead of building up the capability to have a follow-on shuttle immediately.”
While she was optimistic about what she termed NASA’s two key areas, commercial spaceflight to support the ISS and the development of next-generation exploration vehicles, she expressed some uncertainty when asked about export control reform for the space industry, something that has been a hot topic of late after the House included reform language in its version of the defense authorization bill last month. “We certainly need to work with the industry to determine where they are being constrained,” she said. There have been, in fact, several studies that have examined the effect that ITAR is having on the US space industrial base, as well as the recent “Section 1248″ report by administration that concluded that many satellites and related components could be moved to the less-restrictive Commerce Control List. “Yes, we’re not going to sell national security secrets, but we certainly want our commercial capabilities to be competitive, and if there is a problem, I know Congress will work with the industry. The industry needs to bring the problems to Congress so we can do that.”
As she leaves Congress, she said she hopes to see some progress, and compromise, on policy issues in general after the November election, as the current highly partisan atmosphere subsides. “We have to see how the elections turn out,” she said. “I would hope that we can move forward, I hope in the direction that I think is right, even if it’s less than I want it to be.”