It’s been just over a week since the race for the chairmanship of the House Science Committee got into gear, but a frontrunner has already emerged. Earlier this week Space News reported that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the “odds-on favorite,” in the words of one source, to lead the committee in the next Congress. Yesterday, Science magazine’s ScienceInsider column also indicated that Smith was the most likely member to succeed Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), who is stepping down from the committee chairmanship because of term limits.
Science interviewed both Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and James Sensenbrenner (R-YI), the other two candidates, about their interest in the committee chairmanship. (Smith declined an interview, providing instead a brief statement.) In his interview, Sensenbrenner brought up space policy, stressing the need for cooperation between NASA and the private sector. “I don’t think that either NASA or the private sector will have enough money to restore America’s preeminence in space if they do it separately,” he said. “But if they do it together, I think they’ve got a shot at it.”
Rohrabacher, in his interview, only briefly mentions space, noting that a new authorization bill for NASA would be a priority, and emphasizing the importance of international cooperation: “If we are going to have major scientific initiatives, like [on] space debris clearing—which we need to do—or asteroid defense, there needs to be international cooperation. I would go out of my way to enlist other countries in cooperative space efforts.” He also tries to contrast himself versus Sensenbrenner and Smith as a potential chairman, but adds that if he’s not selected, “I plan to be an activist one way or another. I love science.”