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
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
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
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
“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 façade 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
“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,”
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,”
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
“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,”
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
“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.