Now that the Republicans have taken over Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, which oversees the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Cruz issued a press release on Wednesday outlining his plans for the space agency. In his statement, which was titled “Focus NASA on Its Core Mission: Exploring Space, and More of It,” Cruz said he wants to expand the U.S. space program.
“In 1962, President John F. Kennedy laid down a marker for space exploration that inspired a generation of Americans to reach for the stars, recognising that the race to the heavens was nothing less than a crucial front in the battle between freedom and tyranny,” Cruz said.
Cruz, who is widely seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, went on to argue NASA’s partnership with Russia on the International Space Station has endangered American space exploration and innovation.
“More than 50 years later, we have lost sight of that clarion call. Russia’s status as the current gatekeeper of the International Space Station could threaten our capability to explore and learn, stunting our capacity to reach new heights and share innovations with free people everywhere,” said Cruz. “The United States should work alongside our international partners, but not be dependent on them. We should once again lead the way for the world in space exploration.”
Since NASA retired its shuttle program in 2011, U.S. astronauts have been flying aboard Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to reach the International Space Station. And last year, NASA renewed a contractwith Russia that cost them $US457.9 million for six seats on a Soyuz spacecraft to continue ferrying US astronauts to space.
Cruz’s home state of Texas is home to one of NASA’s major field centres, the Johnson Space Center. The facility has gained fame for its role as “mission control” on many manned space missions.
Due to his conservative positions on budgeting and climate change, some observers speculated Cruz would cut funding to NASA in his new role. However, in his statement Cruz repeatedly insisted he wants to expand America’s space exploration efforts.
“Texas has a major stake in space exploration. Our space program marks the frontier of future technologies for defence, communications, transportation and more, and our mindset should be focused on NASA’s primary mission: exploring space and developing the wealth of new technologies that stem from its exploration. And commercial space exploration presents important new opportunities for us all,” Cruz said.
“We must refocus our investment on the hard sciences, on getting men and women into space, on exploring low-Earth orbit and beyond, and not on political distractions that are extraneous to NASA’s mandate. I am excited to raise these issues in our subcommittee and look forward to producing legislation that confirms our shared commitment to this vital mission,” Cruz said.
NASA has already developed partnerships with private companies in an effort to restore U.S. independence when it comes to spaceflight now that the shuttle program has ended. In addition to their contract with Russia, NASA also contracted with SpaceX and Boeing last year. In a statement released last September, NASA said:
“U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts NASA announced Tuesday. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.”
Launching astronauts from U.S. soil is the first step toward NASA’s ultimate goals to renew long-distance spaceflight and take back America’s foothold in space by sending the first humans to an asteroid and then to Mars.
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