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Florida, Ohio Reps Lobby for Space Dollars.

Modernization, research efforts under-funded, members of Congress contend

Congressmen Dave Weldon, R-Fla., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, represent districts in the country with high concentrations of NASA employees and contractors. Weldon's district encompasses Cape Canaveral Air Station and Kennedy Space Center. Kucinich represents NASA's Glenn Research Center.

This summer, Weldon and Kucinich have embarked on a joint project to bring space to the forefront of national policy. They have formed the House of Representatives Aerospace Caucus and agreed to co-chair it.

The caucus was being organized "as a response to foreign challenges to the United States for its leadership in the global aerospace market," said Weldon. The group currently has 22 members (see accompanying chart).

John W. Douglass, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, endorsed the caucus' focus on investment in aerospace. At a recent meeting, he explained that, funding aside, "only six out of every 100 engineering students enter aerospace today. We cannot maintain our lead with so little investment."

Weldon, a former Army doctor who retired at the rank of major, is serving his fourth term in the House of Representatives. He is an outspoken proponent of "all things space" and serves as vice chairman of the House Science Committee's subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

Kucinich, who became the mayor of Cleveland at age 31, is now serving his third term in the House. He is known for his eagerness to serve his constituents. Kucinich gained national notoriety in the space community during the 106th Congress, for coordinating a bipartisan effort of 201 House members to object to a proposed $1 billion cut in NASA funding. His actions, in part, resulted in a $100 million plus-up of the space program's budget.

Weldon and Kucinich recently sat down with National Defense to explain their plans for the aerospace caucus.

"I've witnessed a steady decline in the portion of the federal budget that goes to research and development on aerospace over the last years," said Weldon. "Under Jimmy Carter, 15 percent of federal R&D was aerospace, it jumped up to 20 percent under Reagan, and Bush (senior) brought it back down to 15 percent. But now it's down to 6.75 percent.

"What we're hoping to do is alert the members of the House and the Senate of the significance of the trend we're on. We can expect our aerospace sector to decline significantly over the next 10 years," said Weldon. "That has huge implications not only for our national defense but also for employment, for our balance of payments, and we need to turn that around. We need to start turning it around this year."

The president's budget, so far, is not sufficient in this area, Weldon said. The president currently is calling for a 2 percent increase in NASA funding. "We need to do better than that," Weldon said. "I would look for a 5 percent increase in NASA funding. And then I would hope to see even healthier growth in the years ahead.

"In manned space flight, we have huge cost overruns at the (International Space) Station. We cut the shuttle budget by a billion dollars. It used to take four billion a year to run the shuttle program. For six or seven years, we've been running the shuttle program for three billion a year.

"There are long-term implications of sucking money out of the program like that," Weldon said. As a result, there are aging systems that need to be modernized. The vehicle assembly facility at Kennedy Space Center where NASA stores the shuttles, for example, "needs a new roof and a new facade or it is going to be unusable in 10 years. You could have major damage in the event of a hurricane," he said.

Another example cited by Weldon is the Eastern Test Range, which is the tracking facility that monitors all launches at Kennedy and Canaveral. "The modernization contract, when I first got elected, was supposed to be done in 2001, then 2003. Now, they think maybe it will be done in 10 years. Funding has been raided repeatedly to fund operations and maintenance programs," said Weldon. "When they do launches of the shuttle on high inclination orbits, they have to activate a down-range site in Newfoundland. The equipment (at the Eastern Test Range) is very old," he stressed. "They need to get rid of a lot of the wires and replace them with fiber optics systems. They need to consider getting rid of the radar systems and replace them with global positioning-based systems. "It is not only a national defense issue to keep our launch and testing facilities modern and competitive, but it is a commercial issue. Commercial satellite companies are going overseas to launch," he said.

Weldon has an interest in the health of the commercial space sector. "I've been working for years to try to cultivate our commercial space industry. It's been difficult in the past several years, with the collapse of the lower orbit market, with the collapse of Iridium. That had huge implications for the domestic space market. But international investment has continued.

"If the entire U.S. launch capability were to disappear, we would still need Kennedy and Canaveral for NASA missions. Getting investors to use our launch capabilities would only bring space costs down, and that would be beneficial to the U.S. taxpayer," he said.

Attracting investors to the space industry is one of the goals of the House Aerospace Caucus. "We've got the technological and intellectual base," said Kucinich. "Our generation was challenged to reach for the stars and we have to keep doing it...so that we can confirm for future generations that we kept the faith.

"Mr. Weldon and I have been working together to make sure there is American preeminence in aeronautics research and development, as well as exploration of space. It's been particularly important in the last few years, to rally support for the continuation of the space program and also organizing members to protect the NASA budget from cuts," Kucinich said.

He hopes the caucus will serve as a liaison within Congress, and also as a vehicle to communicate with the aerospace industry. His goal as co-chair of the caucus is to encourage Congress, the administration, the media and the public to "recognize and adopt a national vision to maintain leadership in aeronautics and astronautics," he said.

Kucinich's priorities relating to space include encouraging and supporting funding for the International Space Station, he said.

He favors international cooperation, but is concerned that the European community is challenging U.S. leadership in aerospace. "Our caucus is trying to bring this matter to the attention of Congress. We are holding a series of briefings for Members of Congress and staff, to talk about what's needed for the U.S. to maintain its leadership.

"If we don't invest, we can't be assured that Americans are going to be involved with the commercial space ventures of the future," Kucinich said. However, he added, "we have to be very careful about any efforts which militarize space, because the militarization of space will destroy the commercial potential of space.

"If it was up to me, I'd triple the NASA budget, and if you did that, you'd expand the American economy tremendously. That's the one area where we are lagging behind. America needs to recapture its world preeminence in aeronautics, to set the standards for astronautics," said Kucinich

On the current leadership of NASA, he said, "I think Dan Goldin is bright, a visionary, he can do the job. You cannot be too much of a visionary when you're talking about outer space. I think he is very valuable to any administration. If it wasn't for Dan Goldin, we would have lost the space station a long time ago.

"We spend $300 billion a year on the military, and we should be spending money on peacetime development of technology, that's what it comes down to. I think NASA is the key to America's future and leadership in every area of technology. You can never spend too much on R&D, because we will grow our economy through R&D," he said.
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Author:Book, Elizabeth G.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2001
Words:1360
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