So Senator Ted Cruz has been appointed chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. Big deal, right? He’s a climate denier, but that can be worked around as far as NASA is concerned. The worse part is that he isn’t a friend of the sciences either. Keep in mind that this is a man who has attempted to slash NASA funding only to have it shot down along party lines. The fact that he’s from Texas – home of the famous Johnson Space Center – doesn’t really matter if he can score points by shutting down NASA’s mission under the guise of getting federal spending under control.
You might ask why this is a problem. It’s not like Cruz is a high muckety-muck in the executive branch. He can’t directly boss NASA employees around. However, you might vaguely remember something in the Constitution about how Congress controls the federal budget. Congress has messed around with NASA before by defunding line items like planned infrastructure for the International Space Station. Between that and the fact that NASA has been overrun by bureaucratic lickboots, it’s no surprise that NASA couldn’t provide a planned “lifeboat” for station crews and now they’re dependent on the Soyuz.
Even when a senator is theoretically equal to 99 other people, put him in the wrong place and he could really do a lot of damage to the space program. As the Chairman of this subcommittee, Ted Cruz could essentially bury positive science-related legislation in committee proceedings unless his colleagues have the nerve to blast it out onto the Senate floor.
To be fair, it’s hard to blame any single person for this situation in a republic. The current state of NASA is the result of a slide that started before the Apollo lunar missions even got off the ground. Senators have been loudmouthed about questioning the need for a manned space program before, possibly starting with William Proxmire of the Golden Fleece Award who is often blamed for having accumulated so much power in the Senate that he could effectively shut the whole thing down. Ted Cruz can exacerbate things by granting headaches to people in the Senate who actually want to give NASA the kick in the pants it needs to accomplish great things again, but he didn’t start the problem.
By himself, Ted Cruz can be handled even if it means Texas gets smart and doesn’t send him back for another term. I might have said that we should encourage the people who sat out the 2014 election to vote in 2016 even if it means voting for a third party candidate. If things go the way Elon Musk seems to want it to, your grandchildren could wind up working for passage to Mars the way your great-grandfather might have worked for passage to the United States of America when he was a young man. They’re going to do it because they think the opportunity that Mars represents is worth it. If you can’t vote for a candidate that is going to support the chance to make opportunities like that a reality, vote for one that at least isn’t going to get in the way of private organizations that can do the job.
It gets to the point where the scenario in Interstellar, where NASA is a secret underground agency with a security system that includes outdated robot interrogators, doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable. It’s an extreme version of, “Why are we wasting money on luxuries like space exploration when there are people who are struggling to scratch out a meager existence in poor soil?” When the soil is failing and your children are going to die of respiratory illnesses, it’s no wonder that NASA appeared to fear rioting mobs of farmers who can’t think past the fact that the space program is still in business when their crops are failing.
And people wonder why I have a tendency to lambaste the people who think government is going to solve all our problems. The EPA just can’t do much about the fact that we’ve already pumped millions of tons of toxins into our water and air and sometimes you need to get outside of a problem before you can really solve it. I’m actually happy that there are private organizations like the Mars Society, Mars One and SpaceX who are trying to do what NASA just can’t seem to do anymore because it’s been taken over by people who despise any kind of risk. If they had their way, the astronauts would sign all kinds of release forms before they so much as launch a paper airplane within NASA facilities because they might give themselves a paper cut. Private organizations can shrug off things like a rocket coming down too fast because its deceleration thrusters ran out of fuel because, while reasonable organizations might want to keep such things to a minimum because space hardware that is worth using is frappin’ expensive, they know that the occasional mishap is just part of the game and will have worked that into their budget.
Ted Cruz is going to be inconvenient and his appointment to the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness is certainly annoying enough for somebody to have posted this petition on the official White House petitions page. However, it’s good to know that NASA is no longer the only game in town. More people who understand the common saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” are getting involved. Elon Musk may or may not get his retirement community on Mars, but he and many other supporters of permanent space colonies are sure going to try. I’ll be happy if the Ted Cruz types at least avoid trying to stop them if they can’t support government-sponsored science and space efforts.