Thursday, February 10, 2011

House members may attend Discovery launch

WASHINGTON — Members of the House space committee talked today about attending the next shuttle launch, a side benefit of their official business.

The chairman, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, said the government would provide a plane if there is enough interest among committee members to attend the Feb. 24 launch of space shuttle Discovery. At an organizational meeting of the committee, he asked lawmakers to sign up by Monday.

"It's an exciting thing," Hall said of a shuttle launch.

The panel oversees NASA policy, with a hearing scheduled next Thursday on President Barack Obama's budget proposal for the agency.

Watching a launch would be a treat for panel members, who often have some particular interest in space flight. For example, the father of Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., worked on the Apollo program.

Hall, one of NASA's most vocal supporters in Congress, said the committee would have to work together to support the agency amid tight budgeting that will force cuts throughout the government.

"My goal is to keep our position in space, keep our leadership in space and keep our national and international partners," Hall said. "I'm not urging anybody to go to Mars right now or back to the moon, or any place when people can't go to the grocery store. The economy has to be good. But we've got to continue to work toward it and plan for it."

In terms of the shuttle flight, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the top Democrat on the panel, warned her colleagues not to get their hopes up for a specific date.

"I just want everybody to know that the schedule is frequently changed because of weather," Johnson said. "Don't go and be disappointed if you go and it doesn't take off."

—Bart Jansen

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