Cruz slams proposal to end funding for space station

Cruz slams proposal to end funding for space station
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Senate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill Hollywood goes low when it takes on Trump MORE (R-Texas) is blasting a proposal to end funding for the International Space Station (ISS) and vowing to fight for the program.

Cruz told representatives from NASA that lawmakers were united behind the program during a hearing Wednesday on the "Future of the International Space Station" before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness.

“Nowhere in federal statute is there a request from Congress seeking a hard deadline to end federal support for ISS," said Cruz, the subpanel's chairman.

“Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars," he added. "We cannot afford to continue to pursue policies that have consequences of creating gaps in capability, that send $3 1/2 billion in taxpayer money to the Russian government, or that create a leadership vacuum in low-earth orbit that provides a window of opportunity for the Chinese to capitalize on it.”

Cruz said China would have a manned space station by 2022.

The administration has proposed ending funding for the space station in seven years, by 2025.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the station is viable until at least 2028. He defended the agency's plans.

“To be clear, NASA is not abandoning low-earth orbit. We must ensure the right pieces are in place to maintain an operational human presence in low-earth orbit, whether through a modified ISS program, commercial platforms or some combination of both.”

Gerstenmaier said the administration envisions greater commercialization for the station so that taxpayers are not on the hook for all of its funding.

Paul Martin, the inspector general for NASA, questioned the agency's transition report, saying it is too optimistic about the business opportunities for the station.

But he warned that officials would be "hard-pressed" to maintain current federal funding levels for ISS.

Cruz questioned the motivations for the proposal to end funding.

“It is my concern that considerations other than the merit of the science drove this decisionmaking process,” Cruz said.

Cruz also found bipartisan support from the top Democrat on the full Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida lawmakers blocked from entering facility holding migrant children Transportation Department watchdog to examine airplane cabin evacuation standards Hillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review MORE (D-Fla.).

“Abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration would be irresponsible at best and probably disastrous,” said Nelson, himself a former astronaut.

Both senators hail from states with prominent NASA facilities that employ thousands of workers.

Last year, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report MORE signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act laying out the space agency's agenda. The law also includes a commitment to ISS, requiring the agency to provide cost estimates associated with keeping it open until 2024, 2028 and 2030.