With the Florida Primary concluded on Tuesday, Aug. 14, two Senate races have been set up that may determine the future of how NASA space policy is set in Congress going forward. One is in Florida, the other in Texas.
In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson faces Rep. Connie Mack IV
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, faces a tough challenge from Mack, the son of Connie Mack III, who held the Senate seat before Nelson. Rasmussen reports in a poll released Aug. 17 that Nelson leads Mack 47 percent to 40 percent. While Mack is coming off a divisive primary and thus has to mend fences with fellow Republicans, the fact that Nelson, the incumbent, is polling below 50 percent could prove troublesome to the Senator.
Nelson a powerful supporter of NASA
Marcia Smith, in Space Policy Online, points out that Nelson has been a powerful supporter of NASA as a Senator. He flew on the space shuttle when in the House as a payload specialist. Nelson is currently the chairman of the Subcommittee on Science and Space with oversight of NASA. He, along with retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was instrumental in hammering out a compromise 2010 NASA authorization bill with the Obama administration that accepted the cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program and mandated the building of the Orion Multi Purpose Crewed Vehicle and the heavy lift Space Launch System.
Mack's positions on space unclear
Smith suggests, since Mack's congressional district is not on Florida's "space coast" around the Kennedy Space Center, his attitudes about NASA space policy are unclear. He voted against the controversial 2010 NASA authorization bill which Nelson and Hutchison crafted, but it is unknown what his objections were. It is presumed, however, that any Senator from Florida is going to be generally supportive of NASA and of any space commercialization efforts that would benefit the "space coast" area.
Ted Cruz likely to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas
Since Sen. Hutchison, currently the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is retiring, she will likely be replaced by a freshman Senator. Ted Cruz, who recently won a contentious primary campaign against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is the favorite to win in the deep red state of Texas. Cruz, who has not held elected office before, has no voting record concerning NASA space policy.According to the Texas Tribune, Cruz did strongly support NASA in the final debate with Dewhurst, suggesting that it was integral in the defense of the United States. As with Mack in Florida, it is presumed that any Senator from Texas would be generally supportive of NASA, since the state is the home of the Johnson Spaceflight Center, and of space commercialization that would benefit the Lone Star state.
With the retirement of Hutchison and the possible defeat of Nelson, as Smith suggests in her article, the Senate would lose two advocates of NASA and space exploration with a certain amount of seniority. While Cruz and Mack will likely be just as supportive of NASA, they will not have clout until their gain seniority and hence committee chairmanships.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.