Jul 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers seek piece of space race

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill with Ben Franklin wearing an astronaut helmet.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Members of Congress are ready to fight for government money to fund space exploration projects in their districts as the space tourism industry gains momentum.

Why it matters: The recent launches by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have Americans looking skyward again. Lawmakers are hoping to take advantage of it by raising awareness of potential space projects in districts outside Houston and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) is arguing his Long Island district is ripe for space research and development.

  • All of the Apollo program's lunar modules were built at Grumman's famed Bethpage plant on Long Island.
  • The F-14 fighter jet, flown by Tom Cruise's character in the movie "Top Gun," was built nearby at Grumman's plant in Calverton.

Suozzi believes Bezos and Branson's successes were rooted in ideas developed through government seed money and research in rocketry and space.

  • He's hoping for new research grants and projects in his district to propel the next best idea — which he believes is a broadening of space tourism.
  • Business leaders in Suozzi's district are pushing for billionaires like Branson and Elon Musk to consider the area for additional development.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), who represents the Austin, Texas, capital area, also said he’s heard from people in his district interested in opportunities that might come from space tourism.

  • “I’ve been a big advocate for NASA’s collaboration with the private sector,” he told Axios.

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) said he'd "be open" to creating a government subsidy for space research by private industry, though he's not convinced it's necessary. He sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA.

  • "I don’t know if it’s No. 1 on my agenda," he added. "The people who are funding it now seem pretty well-off.”

Thought bubble: Space tourism won't necessarily be a huge driver of money for the broader space industry, which includes satellite launches and trips to the International Space Station, the moon, Mars and beyond.

  • That said, the flights by Branson and Bezos and others like them can help bring more visibility to this industry on the rise, attracting new talent and interest from the public, writes Axios' space reporter Miriam Kramer.
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