Politico: Rep. Charlie Crist embraces role as Florida Space Coast booster
By JACQUELINE FELDSCHER
Fifty years after the moon landing the Florida Space Coast is preparing to once again play a major role in the nation’s space exploration goals — and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) says he's working overtime to ensure it remains in the driver's seat.
Crist, who served four years as Florida's Republican governor before later switching parties, is now a member of both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA.
“I want to do everything I can from this platform … to be supportive of whatever NASA is doing, whether that’s going to the moon in 2024 with Artemis or beyond that, in the exploration of Mars," he told POLITICO.
Crist said he also seeking new ways to support the types of public-private partnerships between commercial space companies and government players that he says have already had an "electric effect on the Space Coast and Florida."
For example, he "regularly” meets with representatives of SpaceX. “They’ve been a real leader when it comes to public-private partnerships in space and of course Mr. [Jeff] Bezos’ company Blue Origin … as well," he says. "We just want to make sure that those opportunities continue."
Crist also spoke about the challenge of securing funding for NASA’s new moon program and how to provide continuity to the space program in an uncertain election year.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
What role should the Florida space coast play in the future of space exploration?
Obviously it’s the home of Kennedy Space Center. The launches take place in Florida on the Space Coast, as it is known. The area code in that area is 321. The reason is that it’s 3, 2, 1 liftoff. As governor, you learn a lot of those fun facts. But I think it’s incredibly important to Florida’s future and America’s future. The infrastructure is there. It’s just a proving ground for the space program.
One of the things I’ve been doing to try to be of help to Florida’s continued strong presence to the space program is serving on the Appropriations Committee. … The reason I was interested in doing that is because of Florida’s history with space. I want to do everything I can from this platform … to be supportive of whatever NASA is doing, whether that’s going to the moon in 2024 with Artemis or beyond that, in the exploration of Mars.
Is the workforce and infrastructure there to accommodate growth in the space exploration program?
Yes, absolutely. There’s this incredible renewed excitement, not just because it’s the 50th anniversary [of the Apollo 11 moon landing] but because of the increased privatization and public private partnerships working on the space program that has had an electric effect on the Space Coast and Florida with increased employment opportunities.
How is Florida attracting commercial space companies?
I meet regularly with people from SpaceX. They’ve been a real leader when it comes to public private partnerships in space and of course Mr. [Jeff] Bezos’ company Blue Origin … as well. We just want to make sure that those opportunities continue.
Do you support giving NASA additional money to get to the moon in 2024?
I do, yes. As long as it’s done smartly and wisely and safely. I do think it’s a doable goal. … The House has already appropriated an additional $800 million for NASA going forward. Obviously now this all goes to the Senate side for deliberation and conference. We’ll see what it turns out to be, but that was a pretty healthy increase.
But NASA asked for $1.6 billion extra in fiscal 2020, so that’s only half. Do you think the difference will be made up?
Perhaps. That’s what the conference opportunity provides.
What can Congress do to provide continuity to the space program during the 2020 election?
What the House has already done with appropriations process. We can have the Senate follow that lead. It’s very important to get that accomplished. The way we can best express as a Congress the [importance] of continuity is putting our money where our mouth is. That’s the best way to show our sincere dedication to the future of the space program.
Do you think Congress will support the additional moon funding?
I do. … The thing about NASA and the space program is it touches so many communities across the country, not just in the United States, but around the globe. It also provides incredible inspiration for our country and for our people. … 1969 was a time of great division in our country over the Vietnam War and other issues. Once the space program and, in particular, Apollo 11 launched, for eight days, everybody was fixated on this launch, this mission and this purpose. They were inspired by it and unified thereby. It struck me that as people talk about today our society and our politics being so divided, what better time to get behind something that has proven to be so unifying gin the past?
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