Congress, NASA

SLS engineer seeks to run against Mo Brooks as an independent

Rep. Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican whose district includes NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and who sits on the House Science Committee, may be facing a different kind of competition in November. Mark Bray, an engineer for Jacobs Engineering in Huntsville currently working on the Space Launch System (SLS), announced Friday that he plans to run for Brooks’s seat, but as an independent. “I want to serve this district as an independent with no party affiliation so that I can truly serve the people with no strings attached,” he told local TV station WHNT.

Bray tells the Huntsville Times that it was space policy, specifically, the decision by the Obama Administration in 2010 to cancel the Constellation Program and the debate that ensued, that got him interested in a Congressional run. “I saw NASA and the space program — which used to be a bipartisan, everybody-loved-it kind of thing — become a political football,” he told the newspaper. He said he tried to work with Republicans on space policy issues, without success. “I took some stuff behind the scenes, tried to see if I could work something in policy and it didn’t fit with the mantra they wanted to sell, which was anti-Democrat.”

Bray, who works on on materials development and qualification of new propulsion systems for SLS, according to the bio on his campaign web site, is running as an independent, but is looking for Democrats for support in signing petitions to get on the ballot for November. No Democrats are running against Brooks, who is facing one Republican in the June primary, Jerry Hill. Bray said he needs to collect about 6,800 signatures from qualified voters in the district in order to appear on the ballot.

28 comments to SLS engineer seeks to run against Mo Brooks as an independent

  • amightywind

    Bray lives in the reddest of red states. His district are naturally anti-democrat, especially given the destruction that has been visited on NASA in the last 5 years. They are best served by someone who represents that view.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      They are best served by someone who represents that view.

      Considering that Bray is a former SLS engineer, does that qualify him?

      Of course he is not running as a “Republican”, but these days that is no surprise since many Tea Party Republican’s are not really Republican’s either.

    • Paul

      With the exception of one Republican in 1868, and a Populist in 1896, Alabama’s 5th district has been represented by a Democrat until Parker Griffith switched parties during the 111th Congress. This district is not “naturally anti-democratic”. Just because Fox News paints Alabama red doesn’t mean every person in the entire state drinks the Republican Tea.

  • Andrew French

    I wish Mr. Bray the best with his campaign. NASA funding has, until recently, been more parochial than partisan. But a few Republicans have been fighting innovative Obama space initiatives purely for partisan purposes. That is new – and is very unfortunate. If anyone should support commercial space initiatives, it should be the Republicans. Their lack of support for these initiatives is both knee-jerk anti-Obama sentiment as well as proof that their short-sighted “pork interests” outweigh their ideological interests that would actually reduce government spending and increase innovation and U.S. competitiveness.

  • He really doesn’t say what he stands for, just that he’s not Mo Brooks. He also doesn’t indicate where he comes down on OldSpace vs. NewSpace, just he wants to protect the jobs of his former colleagues, which sounds very OldSpace to me.

    • Andrew French

      Excellent point Stephen. I’m no endorsing the guy (I actually vote on many issues other than space and am not a resident of his district), but I wanted to highlight the incredible disingenuous position of self-identified “conservatives” like Mo Brooks that oppose benefiting from basic capitalistic principles in our nation’s space program!

  • Dick Eagleson

    The last vehicle MSFC designed that actually flew was Shuttle. Most of that work was finished 35 or more years ago. Since then, MSFC has accomplished essentially nothing of use to the nation and certainly nothing to justify the billions spent, in Tom Heppenheimer’s apt phrase, “keeping the parking lots full.”

    Mr. Bray’s career falls entirely within the latter half of this three-and-a-half decade interval of expensive uselessness. He hasn’t always been on MSFC’s official headcount during this time, but he’s been employed by OldSpace metal benders the rest of the time and working on MSFC projects, e.g., Ares and SLS.

    If, as I do, you regard pretty much the entirety of MSFC as a make-work welfare program for white men who can do calculus, then Mr. Bray seems like just a paradigmatic client of the establishment aerospace welfare/entitlement state.

    I can only assume his motives in running for office are to keep the pointless pork coming to the modest legion of peer parasites who are his current co-workers. Perhaps he doubts the incumbent officeholder’s commitment to procuring additional years of undeserved appropriations for his glorified sandbox in Huntsville. I have no idea why he should think this, based on the Brooks record. Perhaps to a direct beneficiary of government waste, fraud and abuse, like Mr. Bray, a mere indirect beneficiary of same, like Mr. Brooks, simply seems intrinsically less motivated to keep ladling the gravy over MSFC.

    • Andrew French

      Sounds like voters won’t have much of a choice after all…

    • Randy Raley

      Dig a little deeper into the subject. Mark has been involved in the FAA COMSTAC and efforts to start a commercial space venture of his own. He has discovered it more than NASA that is inhibiting “New Space”. We have handcuffed our business sector in rhetoric while our competitors (ESA, Russia, and China) for the commercial space business have worked out how to bring their products to market.The only thing I can say to Mr. Eagleton is you know what “assuming” does. I believe there is a clear distinction between Mr. Bray and Mr. Brooks when it comes to what is going on in aerospace and what the options are for the future.

      • Coastal Ron

        Randy Raley said:

        Mark has been involved in the FAA COMSTAC and efforts to start a commercial space venture of his own.

        That does help. Thanks for looking into that.

        Regardless who they are, we do need more common sense people in Congress, and not just for space related issues. If Bray can bring that, then I wish him well in the election.

        I guess the worst case scenario would be that Bray beats Brooks, but is still an SLS supporter. However since Brooks had some seniority at least SLS support would be knocked down some.

      • Dick Eagleson

        I have no idea what commercial space enterprise Mr. Bray tried to start. If it had worked he would, I assume, be running said enterprise now rather than sucking on the SLS teat. I have more than one failed attempt at entrepreneurship along my own backtrail. But I don’t consider that any of them particularly qualify me to run for elective office. It is interesting that, rather than essay a second or third attempt at entrepreneurship, Mr. Bray’s decision is to pursue an alternative avenue of acquiring a gov’t.-funded paycheck.

    • Paul

      Except for the ISS Nodes and Modules, Chandra, and dozens of other flight hardware. But if you are specifically referring to a manned vehicle, then yeah, Shuttle was the last one and it flew for 30 years until it was retired, and now they are designing a new vehicle. Marshall has a web site (you can Google it) that has a whole list of the stuff they’ve been doing since the 70′s, you should go have a look. They even hire WOMEN, and people of color to do calculus! The last time I checked, there are 1500 or so human beings who work hard on a daily basis to execute a mission they believe is worth while.

      It’s fine to be dissatisfied with elected officials, but not cool to bad mouth hard working people who have little say in what the politicians do. Even less cool to paint everyone as a white man.

      • Harry Henderson

        Ares I. QED.

      • Dick Eagleson

        With all due respect, MSFC is not designing a new vehicle, they’re redesigning two old vehicles. By direction of its political designers in Congress, SLS is supposed to be based, to the greatest possible extent, on the 35-year-old technology of the Shuttle while Orion is simply a bigger, more fragile version of the Apollo command module.

        As for would-be Rep. Bray’s particular expertise in materials development, perhaps the reason he has enough spare time on his hands to run for office is because his day job makes few demands upon his putative professional expertise. Using old technology, as ordered by Congress, means using old materials as well; nothing much new for our Mr. Bray to develop.

        I recall, in particular, reading that the Orion team elected to use 50-year-old Apollo technology for Orion’s heat shield even to the extent of leaning on the company that used to make the main filler material to recreate their production line for the stuff, which they had shut down four decades ago. The Apollo heat shield was adequate for lunar return, but looks marginal as hell for Mars return and worse yet for any other real deep space mission, and yet Orion is alleged to be a deep space craft. In the intervening four decades since the end of Apollo, NASA, itself, developed the superior PICA material which SpaceX has additionally refined into the yet more superior PICA-X. At MSFC, it’s apparently always 1965.

  • FYI, Mark Bray is going to be on The Space Show this Tuesday (tomorrow) at 7pm. It is a call-in show so this is a good opportunity to get access to him and ask relevant questions that are being addressed in these comments.

    You can listen live by going to TheSpaceShow.com and clicking on the “Listen Live” button. There are several options for how to listen to it. You can call in at 866-687-7223 for on-the-air questions.

    • Hiram

      I believe he was on The Space Show in December, though I don’t think he mentioned a campaign to unseat Brooks then. That show does give a minimalistic picture about where his head is at with regard to space policy. Though to the extent that his job is supporting SLS he didn’t and it’s unlikely that he’s going to, talk down that project.

      • Jim Nobles

        The most recent Space Show episode with Mark Bray I could find was Dec. 17, 2012. I’m downloading it now. It’s far back enough that he might not have starting seriously thinking about running for office yet and therefore might have spoken his mind rather than being politic. Might be able to get a sense of what the man really thinks.

        • Jim Nobles

          Well, I listened to the episode from a year ago and Mr. Bray seems sensible. Therefore I’m predicting that his run for office in the Huntsville area will be stillborn.

          • Dick Eagleson

            I just had a chance to listen to that 12-17-12 Space Show episode. On the basis of his presentation I would be hard-presed to categorize Mr. Bray as much of a friend of commercial space. He expressed considerable skepticism about any potential market for commercial space efforts except in his own field of materials development. In particular, he stated that he didn’t expect any commercial space enterprise to be profitable on non-government-derived business for at least another 10 years. Even allowing for this show being 14 months old, that is a fabulously blinkered view of the whole commercial space arena and especially of SpaceX. Unlike what Mr. Bray claims in his own case, I have no professional connection whatsoever to SpaceX; I certainly have no non-disclosure agreements with them as Mr. Bray also claims. But the idea that SpaceX was ten or more years away from profitability on non-government business was patently idiotic 14 months ago and even more so now when, in all likelihood, SpaceX has already crossed that particular bar or is, at worst, a mere few weeks or months away from doing so. With alleged friends like Mr. Bray, commercial space need look for no enemies.

        • Hiram

          Sorry, I should have noticed it was 2012, and not last year.

  • Hiram

    It would nice to see some identifiable differences between Bray and Brooks. Bray’s campaign website includes a list of four “issues” with a short, handwaving paragraph on each of these — “investment”, “innovation”, “opportunity” and “education”. I find it hard to believe that Brooks would disagree with any of the wishy-washy stuff Bray says there. There is a more lengthy essay on Bray’s campaign website about “Why”, which begins with the words “You know that feeling – the one in your gut when you know something is wrong, but you just can’t pinpoint what it is?” The feeling in my gut, after seeing this stuff, is that I can’t pinpoint what Bray would do that Brooks is not doing, and that something is wrong with Bray’s campaign message. Bray clearly has more technical and probably scientific smarts than Brooks, but you don’t need either to render SLS immortal. If SLS immortality is how you define investment, innovation, opportunity, and even education in 5-AL, then it’s a wash. Bray’s campaign seems to be founded on “I’m not them”, which is never a compelling sales pitch.

    • Dick Eagleson

      Entirely agree, sir. Mr. Bray’s “issues” platform is a 100% specifics-free compendium of boilerpate “applehood and mother pie” platitudes.

  • seamus

    Let’s see… Brooks is a divisive authoritarian who thinks Republicans are “compromising too much”[1], and Bray is a smart conservative who supports a bipartisan approach to working out funding for NASA, supports commercial space, and apparently doesn’t want to be too closely associated with Tea Party extremism. It’s pretty clear who would be a better choice for the space program and for the nation.

    [1] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/transcript-diane-sawyer-interviews-freshmen-lawmakers-tea-party/story?id=14207300&page=5

    • Hiram

      I guess for those of us who are single-issue voters, that might be enough. The fact that Bray doesn’t want to be closely associated with ANYONE just makes it all the more important for him to lay out some specifics about who he is and what exactly his political stances are. It’s frightful to assume that because someone doesn’t do this, and doesn’t want to have any labels applied, means that this person is worth voting for. Though it’s hard to get a lot less appealing than Brooks, that’s for sure. Bray is walking a fine line here, and that certainly is hard to do if you want to do it right.

      Have to wonder what he’s trying to avoid by not being more specific. Maybe he’s a closet liberal? In fact, one has to wonder if he’s even a closet conservative. I really can’t tell on the basis what I’ve read. His words about his four “issues” I referred to could come out of the mouths of most anyone.

    • amightywind

      We’re talking about Alabama, not Maryland, where the label Tea Party Extremist is worn with pride. Bray will be crushed.

      • Vladislaw

        The Tea Party Patriots’ mission is to restore America’s founding principles of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.

        So now you are impling that someone wanting to get rid of a big government deficit spending program like SLS and Orion and utilize more commercial space companies will be crushed by the Tea Party?

  • greybeardmike

    Vlad,

    Be careful not to confuse what a Tea Partier says and what they do.

  • Jack

    Anybody except MO – RON.

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