Taking space to D.C.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule is seen here docked to the Earth facing port of the Harmony module. SpaceX’s sixth commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station launched on April 14th and arrived three days later. It will depart with over 3,100 pounds of research samples and equipment and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER - In an effort to garner congressional support for continued funding for NASA’s Johnson Space Center and its programs 24 years ago, six travelers from the area flew to Washington and visited seven congressional offices. 

The spirit of that effort a little more than two decades ago continues this week as part of the Citizens for Space Exploration coalition’s national space flight advocacy efforts. A delegation, including officials, students and educators from this area will be in D.C. Tuesday through Friday.

And the effort encompasses more than just promotion of the Johnson Space Center.

“The overriding message is to make sure the American public understands more about the innovations brought by space technologies that come from (space) research,” said Bob Mitchell, president of Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. His organization helps coordinate much of the advocacy efforts in Washington each May. “We don’t go and talk only about the Johnson Space Center. We talk about the entire space program because if we can get support for the entire space program Johnson Space Center makes out well.”

While about 75 percent of those whom make the advocacy trip are from the Johnson Space Center-area, the financial influence NASA and its programs has is not isolated to this region.

NASA’s spending in Texas this year will be about $886.6 million.  Of that $779 million goes to Johnson Space Center and contractors in the Clear Lake/Galveston County area.

Another $100-plus million is spread out across 29 congressional districts in Texas, according to NASA procurement data. 

NASA spending isn’t in Texas and Florida alone. In fact, the space agency supports programs in all 50 states. Combined with the emerging commercial space industry, and spaceflight is a significant economic engine in many communities, said Joe Mayer the director of government relations for Lockheed Martin and chairman of the Citizens for Space Exploration.

“And there is a significant return on that investment for taxpayers and for businesses,” Mayer said. “The return on that investment is huge.”

Still when budgets are tight and with so any other spending priorities within Congress, no matter the return on investment is a tough sell. The effort is worth it, Mayer said.

He credits the advocacy trips in the 1990s as playing a significant role in securing the votes needed to continue funding for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. 

“We don’t have those narrow vote margins anymore, but we always remember every vote counts,” Mayer said. “In that sense our voice would be sorely missed, because I think we represent more of the grassroots and citizens support for space flight.” 

The effort isn’t focused on NASA programs alone. The emerging commercial space industry also is a big part of the message.

Commercial programs from Boeing and SpaceX are building the next generation of space vehicles to transport astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. 

Commercial space companies, such as Sierra Nevada Corp., are developing vehicles to serve NASA and other customers and spaceports are being sought across the country to develop a robust space industry that would include orbital flights, satellite delivery and high-altitude global air-travel. 

“It is important for the commercial space programs to get support so that NASA can focus on exploration beyond low-earth orbit,” Mitchell said. 

Indeed programs at Johnson Space Center are just a part of the overall space effort in the United States. There are representatives from 30 states who will attend the 24th advocacy trip in Washington Tuesday through Thursday.

Those include representative delegates from Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center; Hancock, Mississippi home of the Stennis Space Center and other communities with ties to space exploration and research from across the country. 

In all about 95 people from 30 states will walk the halls of the U.S. Capitol in late May and will visit 350 offices of U.S. representatives and senators.

This year’s trip will include for the first time, a delegation from Colorado, Mitchell said.

Some of those making the trip are college students from across the nation, said C.A. Shields, who coordinated much of this year’s trip.

“We bring university students from 25 states,” he said. “Those students speak for a whole generation that has aspirations to take humans to Mars.

“I think that makes a difference when (members of Congress) here from those students making out points.”

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