The first words uttered from the surface of the moon were “Houston, tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.” More than 50 years ago, part of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s legacy was making the biggest city in his home state a center of space exploration. Fast forward to today, you’d think that excitement about projects aimed at Mars and beyond would be reason for ‘Space City’ to celebrate a coming renaissance – but there may be problems on the relaunching pad.
Evan Mintz, deputy editor of the Houston Chronicle’s opinion section, says that he’s a fan of the work of private space firms like Space X, but he’s worried about Elon Musk’s lack of accountability to taxpayers.
“It’s not just his money he’s spending,” Mintz says. “He’s getting taxpayer dollars, too. And unlike NASA, he doesn’t have transparency on it. Unlike NASA, he’s not appointed by our elected representatives. You’ve just got to wonder, what’s going on over there? Every time people ask questions about what happens at any sort of Elon Musk venture, he gets very prickly. You’ve got to worry about what he’s doing with our taxpayer dollars if he’s not open to criticism, if he’s not open to questions.”
Mintz says that Houston’s growing economic diversity is not enough to quell concerns about a decline in NASA’s stature.
“We’re a city that has many economic engines, and aerospace is part of that,” he says. “And if NASA starts to dwindle, that’s going to be a real hit to one of our economic engines. You could really tell a big difference before and after the shuttle program existed at NASA, and you’ve got to wonder, if we take another hit, what’s that going to do for our city?”
Mintz says part of the problem is that NASA isn’t structured in a way that’s conducive to long-term planning and stability.
“Every time you have a new president in, their mission changes, and that makes it hard for them to make forward progress,” he says. “If you set the NASA administrator on a 10-year cycle rather than just up to the next president, I think they could add a little bit more sense of stability.”
He says Houston’s representatives in Congress also must play a role in sustaining Space City.
“John Culberson, who’s on Appropriations, has been a best friend for NASA, best friend for space,” Mintz says. “But one of his biggest initiatives right now is an $8 billion probe to go explore the Jupiter moon of Europa. Now not a cent of that, as he told us, is going to be in Houston. That’s a lot of money to spend and not bring some home.”
Written by Josue Moreno.