WASHINGTON — Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz ran his first subcommittee hearing today as a surprisingly bipartisan lovefest on space exploration.
It was also on time and by the book, two hours from start to finish.
Cruz, named chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on space, science and competitiveness earlier this year as Republicans took the Senate majority, wasted no time promoting his enthusiasm for space exploration.
“As chairman, my first priority for the space portion of the subcommittee is helping NASA refocus its priorities,” said Cruz in his opening remarks. “It is imperative that America has the ability to get to the International Space Station without the assistance of the Russians.”
As Cruz spoke, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who was seated next to Cruz, smiled and nodded. Nelson then said, “Blossoms are breaking out all over Washington. What you just said – you and I completely agree on.”
Nelson is a space enthusiast who, as a congressman, traveled into space on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986.
Florida is home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and Houston is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Cruz nodded his head often when Nelson spoke, too, about the need for commercial development of space travel. The Florida senator said the subcommittee had always been “non-partisan.”
“I hope those (comments) are not used against you in your next campaign,” joked Cruz.
Nelson rejoined: “I was going to say the same thing to you. Yours is a little more immediate than mine.” Cruz is considering a presidential bid in 2016. Nelson, in his third Senate term, was last elected in 2012.
The hearing on “U.S. Human Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness” had some rock stars as witnesses: three former astronauts. Col. Walt Cunningham, (ret.,) Apollo 7 pilot, Col. Buzz Aldrin, (ret.), Apollo 11 pilot, the second man to walk on the moon, and Michael Massimino, who flew on two missions.
All three talked about the need for a goal for the NASA space program with the most attention focused on Mars.
“There’s no more convincing way to show American leadership than to commit to a permanent presence on Mars,” said Aldrin.
Massimino, who is now a professor at Columbia University, said there was a need to inspire and excite young people. “Maybe we don’t know exactly where we want to go, but we want to go somewhere,” he said, “whether it’s an asteroid, the moon or Mars.”
In a testament to the inspiration of the space program, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed a copy of a letter he had written to NASA in 1983 when he was nine years old, wanting to be an astronaut.
Three other witnesses spoke about private space flight efforts including John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration in Houston, who praised NASA’s scientific advances. “NASA is laying the foundation for taking the next important step – human exploration beyond the moon to Mars,” he said in his testimony.
Cruz ended the hearing repeating his concerns and the “potential threat” of relying on the Russians to reach the International Space Station, which the U.S. has done since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.