Handicapping the race for House Science Committee chairman

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.”

33 comments to Handicapping the race for House Science Committee chairman

  • Vladislaw

    The science being returned from mars is showing radiation levels on the mars surface is about the same as in LEO so the martian atmosphere is blocking it.

    What does this mean in the budgeting for destinations? More of a push for mars?

    • Googaw

      Why would it mean that? One in a million problems the cult denies turns out to be slightly less of a problem.

      We’ve spent all of NASA history wit nothing more than PowerPoint sci-fi about sending our diapered heroes to Mars. Another hundred years or so of presentations won’t hurt (as long as you don’t make normal people attend them).

      • josh

        what is it that you’re trying to accomplish here? your posts are neither entertaining nor insightful. only the same misanthropic drivel over and over again. seriously, you contribute nothing here, you’re just annoying. we should start calling you the grinch.

        • Googaw

          Heresy and reality are now “misanthropic.”

        • Googaw

          I love the “grinch” business too. Romney’s comment seems to be apropos when it comes to astronaut fans. They think of the feds as Santa Claus, a never-ending source of accountability-free goodies. Anybody who suggests that the feds should stick to funding things in this area that are actually important to national goals such as security, science, and encouraging real commerce, are “the grinch” who is “stealing” (i.e. refusing to fund) the freebies.

  • vulture4

    The article said i was about half that measured in space during the flight. Not clear how much of the drop is due to planetary shielding, i.e. in the surface the planet blocks half the sky. Still much higher than normal Earth background. But I agree, hazard for astronauts is manageable.

  • Vladislaw

    Agreed, they said the flight out would be twice as bad… so we have to cut the flight time there and get them on the ground. All the more reason to delay traveling or landing on mars until we have a vehicle that can do the road trips there.

    • Googaw

      We’ve had vehicles going to Mars for many decades now, of course.

      They just didn’t have our celestial pilgrims on board. Which means they could actually get something useful done. And could do it on a real-world budget, instead of in the fantasy politics-of-the-future.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Vlad –

    Thanks for this important news, but what manned Mars flight enthusiasts fail to take into consideration is that if the chances of life on Mars go up, then so do the costs of clearing the back contamination problem.

    I still think a rover going up Valles Marineris in Mars science priority 1. I call it “Powell”.

    • Vladislaw

      I am not a Mars flight enthusiast. If we can not routinely fly the 200 miles, we are really putting the cart before horse thinking 35 million is a starting point. If we do fly out that far, there will be the hue and cry for why aren’t you landing, those costs seems to usually price you out of it all together.

      Fuel handling, I believe, should be a priority, and the shift from the disposable Apollo model and move to space based, reusable vehicles. We do not need to fly past our frontier of GEO and the bulk of our assests to develop and mature the technologies.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Vlad –

        Right about the fuel, and propulsion systems, and systems generally.

        Dan Goldin had planned to test technologies for turning Mars’ atmosphere into methane fuel in his Mars Sample Return Architecture.

        As far as Sensenbrenner goes, Goldin had planned to have manned systems for the EELV’s, with no US reliance on anyone for transport to ISS. If memory serves (and sometimes it does not), Sensenbrenner helped kill those. I hope others here will have been closer and know more about that.

        I am still waiting for the delivery of a simple report from OSTP to the Congress on how to the US government agencies should coordinate in dealing with an approaching impactor. At least something to serve as a basis for discussion.

        I have impact research on my desk to circulate to the impact research community. Election season is over, and B612 needs some donations.

        Due to NASA’s failures to do its work, I do not get to have “fun” thinking about manned Mars flight.

        My guess is that the Mars surface radiation levels are being under-reported. I wish Musk the best of luck.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I hope Rohrabcher’s fellow Republicans do not call him a “communist” for pointing out obvious hurdles in dealing with these two problems.

    Given party loyalties, and the other states’ delegations, and their launch and space industries, my guess is that Smith will get the chairmanship, with Rohrabacher quietly doing a whole lot of the work behind the scenes, particularly in dealing with “difficult” areas.

  • Vladislaw

    I thought this was about the politics of space?

  • vulture4

    The following is copied directly from the website of Lamar Smith, supporting his belief that climate change is a fabrication of the liberal press and the liberal scientific community, which are both inveterate liars. He believes scientific truth is whatever his ideology decides it is. His main qualification to command America’s federal science research seems to be that he won a prize in a science fair in high school.
    ABC, CBS and NBC Win Lap Dog Award
    Washington, Dec 8, 2009 – ABC, CBS and NBC Win Lap Dog Award

    Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the Congressional Media Fairness Caucus, today awarded ABC, CBS and NBC the “Lap Dog Award” for media bias in a speech on the House Floor. The Lap Dog Award is given weekly for the national news coverage that most glaringly exemplifies slanted, subjective, and otherwise sycophantic reporting/shilling.

    Smith’s remarks:

    “ABC, CBS, and NBC are the winners of this week’s Media Fairness Caucus’ highly un-coveted ‘Lap Dog Award’ for the most glaring example of media bias.

    “The networks took two weeks to devote any coverage to the ‘Climategate’ scandal on their evening news programs.

    “We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data.

    “But for two weeks, none of the networks gave the scandal any coverage on their evening news programs. And when they finally did cover it, their reporting was largely slanted in favor of global warming alarmists.

    “The networks have shown a steady pattern of bias on climate change. During a six-month period, four out of five network news reports failed to acknowledge any dissenting opinions about global warming, according to a Business and Media Institute study.

    “The networks should tell Americans the truth, rather than hide the facts.”

    • Bennett In Vermont

      Al of Congressman Smith’s comments are correct. All you need to do is spend a bit of time reading through the actual data to discover that this whole Global Warming er, Climate Change er, Climate Chaos is much ado about nothing more than natural variability.

      Historically, CO2 increases follow warming. We are still coming out of the intense cold years of the Little Ice Age and have yet to warm up to the levels seen during either the Medieval Warm Period OR the Roman Warm Period.

      There has been no warming in the past 15 years despite an increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

      Very Inconvenient!

      Spend some time on and you’ll understand Congressman Smith’s statements about media bias.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Texas is oil country. Naturally, those who own wells and refineries do not want to hear about any possible side effects of their products.

    We currently do not know how the variability of our Sun affects the Earths climate, and thus we can not know with certainty the effects of any gases we release into the atmosphere.

    NASA has unique abilities to get the information needed to provide firm answers to those questions.

    In the meantime, there’s a lot that needs to be done to make our economy more energy efficient.

  • vulture4

    The solar constant is measured today with great precision (from space) so any variations in solar output can be incorporated into current models, as long a NASA still has funding to maintain the monitoring program.

    We also know with great precision the level of CO2 in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution, from 270ppm in 1800 to 395ppm today and is increasing at 2ppm/yr.'s_atmosphere

    NASA won’t be able to answer these questions if some of the Republican leaders of the House Science Committee have their way, as they want to stop funding science that doesn’t support their ideology.

    • E.P. Grondine

      V4 –

      There is nothing “constant” about our Sun’s output. No “solar constant”. And that includes all types of particles.

      When Bush Jr did not sign Kyoto, he promised that that research on AGW would be done, and once the answer came in, appropriate actions would be taken. That did not happen. (The discontinuity in the TOMS series really irritates me. Who can I yell at?)

      Do you know how much our farmers would benefit if we could get an accurate 12 month weather forecast? Well, we can’t, not with our current computer models.

      For me, that climate science has far more importance than Mars science. But then so do accretion studies.

      • vulture4

        Regarding solar irradiance, the variation is about .1% and the term “constant” is traditional. It can only be directly measured from space, although indirect measurements have identified several cycles of 11, 88, 208 and 1000 years which are incorporated in climate models.

        Again, without NASA climate research funding it isn’t possible to collect actual data.

        Would you then support or oppose Congressman Posey (R-FL) statement that climate research funding should be removed from the NASA budget? If we can arrive at a consensus that climate research should continue, with NASA support, whatever the results, then that would be a step toward the truth, regardless of what that truth turns out to be.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi V4 –

          Those very roughly defined cycles you mention appear to be related the difference between our Sun’s center of gravity and our Solar System’s center of gravity, and the effect of that on the fusion containment of our Sun. Once again, please stop using the term “solar constant”, as it whisped away into the aether.

          We must arrive at a consensus that climate research should continue, with NASA support, whatever the results, as regardless of what that truth turns out to be, it is vital to our nation’s well being.

          See my comment on agriculture above, and note that this has serious bearing on the water supplies of many states as well.

          Mayor Bloomberg may have his view, but right now we don’t if Coronal Mass Ejections played a role in Sandy, or if AGW intesified Sandy; and we need to know, unless the nation is planning on going out of business in a short while.

          Just sign me as a Raging middle of the road moderate.

        • E.P. Grondine

          PS V4

          By the way, you’re not including all types of particles when you speak of the variability in irradiance.

          You also need to look closely at the angle of luminence between the Earth and Sun.

          Raging Moderate.

  • Robert G. Oler

    OK how wonderful I did not take us off subject…

    But does anyone have any information on what the radiation environment is on the Mars surface? Somewhere I have been reading that its not as bad as people had thought and I guess I could do more research but perhaps someone here could thumbnail it coherently for me?


    • vulture4

      Curiosity (first lander with capability for radiation measurements) apparently reported radiation levels on the Marian surface “similar to those on the ISS”, and “about half what was measured in space”. Typical ISS exposure rates are 15-30 REM/yr. This is still much higher than typical background levels on the ground on Earth but is usually considered acceptable for up to a year or so on the ISS. While chronic (several years) low-dose radiation exposure such as this would increase long-term cancer risk somewhat it would not cause acute medical problems that would interfere with the mission. The prime risk in spaceflight is disintegration of the vehicle, so people in this line of work are usually willing to accept some risk.

      BTW high-time airline pilots have higher radiation exposure as well, and SFAIK no one keeps track of them in any specific way. The high rate of cataracts in high-time high-altitude pilots may be related to cosmic ray exposure.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Lest I be misunderstood here, Jeff’s topic was handicapping the chairmanship race, not stating who we want to win. As my late uncle, a close student of the equine arts put it, place and show often pay better than win.

    RGO –

    As so many of my Native friends face their own nations’ Day of Mourning, I just want to mention the great, great space comedy “Interplanetary” in Shock-o-rama.
    Be sure to get a copy for your holiday viewing.


    Dana Rohrabacher.

    James Sensenbrenner.

    Lamar Smith.

    Dinosaurs all.

    The anti-science party that openly cultivates the silliness of Planet Earth being all of 6,000 years old; the party with elected officials publicly refuting the Big Bang and embracing brontosaurus flatulence as a source cause for global warming has no business leading a science committee in the Congress of the United States.

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