Rep. Lamar Smith to Chair House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee

By Keith Cowing
January 5, 2003
Filed under ,
Rep. Lamar Smith to Chair House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee
NASA congress

Update: word has reached SpaceRef that this is not a done deal after all and that Rep. Smith would prefer to chair a Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. This may be resolved this week as Congress reorganizes itself and gets down to business. However, if it is not resolved this week, the chairmanship may be in limbo for several weeks until members of Congress come back to Washington toward the end of January.

When the 108th Congress begins business this week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) will be named as the new chair of the House Science Committee’s Subcommmittee on Space and Aeronautics. Smith is the ranking member of the Science Committee. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher stepped down as Subcommittee chair due to term limit constraints.

Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) had been touted as a possible successor to Rohrabacher. However, Weldon, who will be going to the House Appropriations Committee, was unable to get a waiver from Congressional leadership so as to continue to serve on the Science Committee. Also mentioned as Subcommittee Chair possibilities at one point or another were Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Rep. Ken Clavert R-CA).

Smith is no stranger to the topic of space. During one 2001 Congressional hearing on “Life in the Universe” Smith happened to mention that ‘SETI at Home’ screensavers were to be found on his staff’s computers. Smith also made the following opening statement at that hearing which provides some insight into his personal interests:

Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank the Ranking Member for letting me make my opening statement prior to his as well. I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, not only for having a hearing on such an important subject, but also for assembling four such outstanding witnesses as we have here today.

The search of the heavens captures the imagination of the American people. Every summer it seems we have a blockbuster movie about space and other intelligent life. If we were to discover evidence of life in other parts of the universe, we will have made one of the most notable discoveries of our age, perhaps of all time.

Who hasn’t looked into the sky and wondered about how life began and whether other beings inhabit other portions of our universe? T.S. Elliott wrote, ”We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Author Timothy Ferris said that the fourth line of Elliott’s poem is ”cosmology’s credo, for to find our place, we must know the place, cellar to ceiling, from the tap roots to the stars, the whole shebang.”

Our desire to explore and discover life has led us to trek to the North Pole and circumnavigate the globe to conquer Mount Everest and plunge to the oceans’ depths. We have even walked on a neighboring celestial body.

As we continue to explore and discover, we should also search the sky for signs of intelligent life. The discovery of other life in the universe would rate as one of the most astounding events in human history. We need to search the skies because not listening relinquishes any hope we have of solving the question: Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?

On other worlds in our solar system, from Mars to the moons of Jupiter, we have already begun the search for microbial life. And here on Earth, scientists continue to develop innovative technology and approaches to pioneer new radio techniques that could be used in the Square Kilometer Array, an international ground-based radio telescope project that will be 100 times more sensitive than the most sensitive existing radio telescopes.

We are compelled to search for other life in the universe to, in President Reagan’s words, ”Slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God.” Inherent in the human spirit is the desire to go farther, higher, and faster. The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of giant Jupiter-size planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system. The challenge now is to find smaller planets in distant galaxies.

NASA is developing missions, such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder and the Next Generation Space Telescope, intended to detect earth-size planets. By the end of the decade, we will have combined the best imaging, formation flying, and other visionary technologies, giving us the power to move forward in answering the fundamental question: Are we alone? These projects and others remind us that our corner of creation is small and they allow us to ponder together the greatest questions one can ask.

Editor’s note: the words attributed to President Reagan were indeed spoken by him at the memorial ceremony for the Challenger crew – however the words were taken from “High Flight ‘ written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.