Thursday, March 15, 2012

Inappropriate Remarks

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA.

The venal behavior by certain members of Congress at the March 7 hearings with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden may be repeated next week when Bolden appears before the House Appropriations Committee on March 21.

Bolden will appear before the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Its chair is Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

Wolf is responsible for the law that prohibits Bolden or any NASA official from having contact with the Chinese space agency. He has repeatedly called Bolden on the carpet for any incidental contacts with China, such as his March 5 letter asking for a "detailed report on the nature of the discussions" among International Space Station agency administrators in Quebec who informally discussed inviting China to join the ISS. News reports clearly stated that Bolden told the group NASA was prohibited from contact with China, but that wasn't enough for Wolf.

Wolf is so obsessed with China that in 1995 he claimed Chinese hospitals were selling human fetuses as health food and demanded the Clinton administration investigate.

This appalling congressional behavior, sadly, is nothing new.

I'm currently reading Lunar Impact: The NASA History of Project Ranger by R. Cargill Hall. Ranger sent the earliest probes to the Moon to take photos of the surface.

On page 113, the author recounts a 1960 incident with Rep. Albert Thomas (D-TX) who represented Houston. At the time, Thomas was chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversaw NASA funding. Hall writes:

In 1960, while scrutinizing the proposal for Project Ranger, Congressman Albert Thomas of Houston, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Independent Offices, interrupted the testimony of NASA Associate Administrator Richard Horner to inquire just how far away the moon was from the earth. Horner replied that it was a quarter-million miles distant. Nodding and holding up background data furnished by NASA, Thomas read: "Your justifications continue: 'as our nearest major body in the solar system, basically unchanged for billions of years, the Moon offers unique potentialities for better understanding of historical and contemporary phenomena of the solar system ...' We know all about that," Thomas snapped. "If it has not been changed for billions of years, why not leave it alone?"

Thomas got space religion in 1961 when NASA awarded the Manned Spacecraft Center to Houston. Thomas helped that deal by arranging for Rice University to donate the land for the center, which in 1973 was renamed the Johnson Space Center. With pork now flowing to his district, Thomas embraced the space program.

Sounds like not much has changed in fifty years.

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