By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — It’s only once in a blue moon that Democratic and Republican politicians can come to mutual understanding on Capitol Hill, but just this once, Sen. Bill Nelson hopes they’ll put differences aside and strive for the moon. Earth’s Moon, that is.
Florida’s senior senator,who flew on aspace-shuttle mission in 1986 as a payload specialist, is using all the political capital he has to save the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the jobs it provides to thousands of Floridians, as well as retooling it for the next generation of scientists, engineers and space explorers.
But with the nation focusing on fiscal negotiations to avoid large tax hikes and spending cuts for the new year, and no large appetite for boosting NASA spending, Nelson’s space dreams seem to be out of reach.
Earlier this month, Nelson teamed up with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, D-Texas, representing a state with nearly half of NASA’s workforce, to introduce theSpace Exploration Sustainability Act.
“There is so much left to explore and so much we don’t even know we are looking for,” opined Hutchison in the Houston Chronicle in June. “As long as NASA’s funding and future are secure, there are no limits to what we might find.”
The bill proposes a facelift for the space program’s long-term goal, aiming to “sustainably expand permanent human presence” beyond Earth’s orbit, with an emphasis on cooperating with other nations and “expanding economic activity in space,” according to the bill.
It also proposes that NASA create technology to protect the Earth for “space borne threats,” such as asteroids.
But with so few days left in the congressional session, the bill remains stalled in the Senate Committee on Commerce having only a 10 percent chance of being passed, according toGovTrack.
“Without question, the long-term goal of our space program, human space program right now is the goal of going to Mars in the decade of the 2030s,” Nelson told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center in July. “We still need to refine how we’re going to go there. We’ve got to develop a lot of technologies. We’ve got to figure out how and where we’re going to stop along the way.”
There are 18,000 NASA employees and contractors, with more than 3,000 in Brevard County alone, the heart of Florida’s Space Coast.
Both Nelson and Hutchison have defended the space agency from large-scale cuts because of the significant economic impact on their respective states. And their efforts seem to have worked.
Even though NASA no longer has a Moon or Mars mission in the works, it continues to enjoy a nearly $18 billion budget which, adjusted for inflation, is the highest it has been since 1970, the year after Apollo 13 landed on the moon.
Neither Nelson nor Hutchison returned calls to Florida Watchdog.