Texas lawmakers marked the end the of shuttle program and criticized NASA’s course on Thursday, hours after the shuttle Atlantis landed in Florida. Gov. Rick Perry singled out President Obama for heavy criticism.
With the shuttle now retired, and no immediate successor to provide transport to the International Space Station or other destinations, the space agencies’ direction has been the subject of a long-running political controversy.
NASA’s current plan is to buy seats on Russian spacecraft for several years, before contracting small-scale manned spaceflight to commercial providers. In the long term, the agency has announced the intention to build the heaviest rocket since the Apollo era, but the rocket might be more than a decade away.
Texas lawmakers frequently assail federal spending, but many used the publicity surrounding the shuttle’s demise to call for more of it. They favor a previous plan that would have directed NASA to design and build two different rockets, a program which would have been managed from Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Houston is set to take a large economic hit when the shuttle program ends.
In a statement issued by his office, Perry attacked the Obama administration’s plan as a betrayal of NASA’s legacy, saying that “the Obama Administration continues to lead federal agencies and programs astray, this time forcing NASA away from its original purpose of space exploration, and ignoring its groundbreaking past and enormous future potential."
He also accused the administration of “shutting down our nation’s legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration.”
Other lawmakers focused more on memorializing the shuttle program, and left their criticism of NASA’s direction more oblique, promising to fight for Texas' aerospace industry.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, in a video uploaded on his YouTube channel, called the final shuttle landing a “bittersweet milestone,” before pledging that he would “continue to work with my Texas colleagues to ensure that our state and nation remain at the forefront of human spaceflight.”
For her part, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison congratulated NASA employees on the final shuttle mission.
She also urged NASA to change course, saying she was “hopeful that NASA will do everything it can to speed up the delivery of Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, announce plans for the development of heavy lift rockets and work together with Congress so we can embark on a new era of American dominance in manned spaceflight.”
Since Atlantis launched on July 8, Hutchison’s office has issued a press release regarding her effort to make NASA spend money that Congress allocated for the development of a heavy-lift rocket. She has previously threatened to subpoena NASA regarding the allocation of those funds.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said in a statement that people should “salute the thousands of men and women at NASA and companies with whom it contracts for their service to our nation and their contributions to mankind.”
He also said that funding the development of a replacement system “should be a priority for Congress to fund in order to minimize our dependency on Russia and avoid losing our leadership in space exploration.”