Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness gave the keynote address at the 21st Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference. His speech was mainly an upbeat assessment of how legislation was passed last year that advanced the cause of commercial space and the future of space exploration. However, the senator did offer a warning about administration plans to withdraw from the International Space Station and a plea to confirm Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma as NASA administrator.

A report by NASA Watch was used for material in this article.

Cruz began with an upbeat assessment on space

Senator Cruz began his speech with an upbeat assessment on space from his perspective as a significant political player on the issue. He touted legislation that encouraged commercial space and provided for the authorization of NASA on a bi-partisan basis. Cruz praised the progress that has been made in the development of an industrial space sector, citing the recent launch of the Falcon Heavy. He suggested that the first person who sets foot on Mars will be an American.

The senator offers a warning on pulling out of ISS

Then Cruz added a little admonishment to go along with his sunny optimism.

He cited reports that the Trump administration plans to withdraw NASA from the International Space Station to pay for a return to the moon and suggested that he would not only oppose such a move, but it would be contrary to the statute. Cruz, like other congressional critics of the plan, did not reference the other part of the idea, which was to shift low Earth operations to the commercial sector, either to private management of the ISS or a commercial space station.

Curiously also Cruz did not mention the idea of a return to the moon at all, even though the approach is favored by a great many commercial space players, international partners, and American space policy experts. His gaze is entirely set on Mars, the policy of the previous administration. Cruz did not offer any assessment of how deep space exploration would be paid for if the ISS were to be extended to 2028, however.

Confirm Jim Bridenstine already

Cruz concluded his remarks by noting that the confirmation of Jim Bridenstine as NASA administrator is an exception to the bi-partisan nature of space policy. He did not mention Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, the man leading the fight to derail Bridenstine, by name. Cruz did note that Bridenstine is a war hero and had been a Top Gun instructor. NASA, he stated, will not be a properly functioning agency unless and until Bridenstine is confirmed.

Bottom line

The Trump administration apparently has some work to do if it intends to pull out of the ISS to pay for a return to the moon. Nelson has already promised to fight, but as a partisan Democrat, he could be expected to do so.

Cruz and Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas have also expressed their reservations, which presents something of a problem. The Trump people need to convince the space players in Congress that a smooth transition to a commercial arrangement for LEO research and development can be made and that a return to the moon is not only essential to going to Mars but that it is worthwhile in and of itself.