All space politics is local, Palazzo jumps in

“All politics is local,” said former US House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it seems that space politics is becoming excessively so. The lineup of congressional leadership in space illustrates that well. The new chair for the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics is a freshman congressman from Mississippi, Steven Palazzo. Obviously this was not a highly sought job for Republicans positioning themselves for 2012 leadership. The dominant consideration seems to have been to give it to somebody with a local interest—in this case, NASA’s Stennis Space Center. The first sentence of his announcement to the position read begins, “Representing the home of NASA’s largest rocket engine testing facility in the country…”

Other major issues are considered national issues. But when I go to speak to someone in Congress about space issues, I am most frequently told that I should find someone with a local interest who wants to champion that issue.

On the Senate side the leaders on the committees concerned with space issues are Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). They have dominated the debate about the future of human space flight and it is their local interest views that led to the extraordinary over-specification of rocket design in legislation last year. Very little attention was paid to the goals and objectives of human space flight, let alone what the requirements might be to meet them. Very little was said about mission requirements in the discussion about using the Atlas, Delta, and Falcon for human access to low Earth orbit and developing a deep-space rocket that actually goes to deep space. Instead, attention was focused on how such projects might clash with or protect the status quo of existing contracts.

The Space Review
1/31/11