Debating space in Alabama

Last week the two major candidates for Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, Republican Mo Brooks and Democrat Steve Raby, participated in a debate hosted by the AIAA in Huntsville. The two are vying to win the seat held by Democrat-turned-Republican Parker Griffith, who lost in the Republican primary to Brooks. Not surprisingly given the district and the debate sponsor, the two tried to demonstrate their space policy bona fides. However, based on a media report about the debate, both candidates have some issues with this issue.

Brooks, for example, claimed that if elected “he believes he’ll be named to at least two key Congressional Committees that would have a major say in steering funding toward NASA.” It’s not clear what committees he’s referring to, but the only committee that “steers funding” to NASA is the House Appropriations Committee—and, typically, its members do not sit on any other committees. (There is the separate issue of the limited influence a freshman member, even one in the majority party, would have on the committee.)

Raby, meanwhile, argues that what NASA workers “need and want” are “new missions”, although he isn’t specific about what kind of new mission (Brooks, according to the article, advocates for a return to the Moon as a prelude to human missions to Mars.) Raby said he would support extending the shuttle program while NASA worked on an HLV. He doesn’t explain how the shuttle would be extended at this late date without a significant gap in launches, nor how shuttle and HLV work could both be fit into NASA’s budget without either an increase in the agency’s overall budget or cuts elsewhere. Raby said he’s also concerned about a “BRAC for NASA”, a reference to the Base Realignment and Closure process used to close Defense Department facilities. However, the new NASA authorization act prevents any reductions in force of NASA’s civil servant workforce—which presumably would be one element of a BRAC process—through the end of FY2013.

On his campaign web site, Brooks doesn’t directly discuss space policy issues, although on a section where he takes a rare pro-earmark stance, he states, “Mo Brooks will not defer total control over America’s defense, NASA or any other part of the budget to President Barack Obama.” Raby does have a section about NASA on the “issues” page of his site. “NASA’s role should be first and foremost in manned space flight with a definite mission to the moon, Mars, and beyond,” he states there. However, he also states, “The proposal to eliminate the Constellation program must be defeated and I’ll do all I can to protect this program.” It may be a bit late for that.

Most election analysts have the district strongly leaning towards Brooks: theNew York Times’ FiveThirtyEight gives Brooks nearly a 95-percent chance of winning a week from today.

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