By JACQUELINE KLIMAS10 / 26/2018 06:45 EDT  With a control over the Chamber of Democrats, a potentially major shift…
a space telescope launched in the mid 2020s to look for planets beyond our solar system.
“It was really brief in the latest NASA authorization.” Beyer said. “It was a matter of high priority for the astrophysics community that did not got enough attention, so I’ll drive it. “
Beyer also talked about increasing the oversight of NASA programs, the US-Russia relationship in space, and what it will take to fully fund NASA’s ambitious agenda.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get to the space committee for the room?
When I first got the chance to put down the committees I [wanted to be]you obviously put ways and means and estimates that you will never get them as beginners. I raised my hand for Science, Space and Technology just because I was always fascinated by science and the difference it makes in our lives.
Among the scientific subcommittees, space is the most interesting and exciting. I was 11 or 12 years old when [former President] John Kennedy spoke to Rice University about going to the moon at the end of the decade and I was 19 years old when we actually did. So this has been … a part of my whole life.
[I was eager about] The opportunity to provide NASA with awareness and learn about the major pictorial issues, [like] dark energy, dark matter, gravity quotas or even the little things. I do not think I knew … that we used Russian engines or the role the commercial sector is playing in space [before coming to the committee.] It has been a wonderful education for me.
What do you want to see the subcommittee focus on in the next congress?
I think it’s very important to keep pace for Mars … One of NASA’s long-term criticisms is that it may not show enough consistency for purpose … so when the last [NASA Administrator Charles] Bold was ahead of space investigation a year or two ago … I asked him whether it was a purpose for NASA. Without a doubt, he said Mars.
As humans, we must constantly be inspired. Right now, Mars is the distant goal that can change how we understand our planet and even our humanity. I think this is the biggest picture.
More immediately, it will be very important to focus on increased investment in our science. We need to get James Web Space Telescope launched … WFIRST [Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope] is one of the top priorities in the decadal survey. It was brief in the current NASA Authorization, but we must really focus on it. It will help with exoplanet detection and try to figure out how dark energy is.
There are many important parts. What happens to the space station? Is it going through 2025 or 2030? Can we really transition to the commercial sector and make it viable in the long run?
We will always keep this focus on planet research … We do not want to lose focus on the earth … It has been a little controversial. In the last congress there was a move to take over most of the earth science to [Environmental Protection Agency] without any funding. NASA is the only one who can do that job.
How can Congress get a better overview of programs like Space Launch System and James Webb Space Telescope, both behind the schedule and over the budget?
I think [Government Accountability Office] does a great job of submitting when we ask them, or even sometimes when we do not ask them, to look at problems with overruns or time delays or just a few kinds of mistakes along the way.
During the recent JWST oversight trial, I became quite defensive about it. Although it will be $ 9 billion in total [and finished] in 2021 or 2022 – it’s very different than when they started in 1996, when it would be $ 500 million and be ready in 2002 – science is so incredibly different. We did not know about dark energy or dark matter then. We had no idea how far back you could enter the universe. What we ask James Webb to do is far, much bigger than we thought, even asked when the project started. So the extent of science is very, very different. Nobody in the world has ever done this before. It’s hard to predict what it will cost if you’ve never tried it.
We do not get any other chances … You would hate spending [billions of] dollars and get a pair of bolts to shake to lose an hour in flight and have wasted all this. Better to spend a little more money, take some more time and maximize the chance that you will get it right.
If democracies win the house, how is the committee’s focus shift?
Two or three years ago, I felt very much that our chairman of the board [Rep.] passed Lamar Smith to almost defeat the Earth’s scientific parts of NASA. Literally [they were trying to move the mission] to [Environmental Protection Agency] without moving any money … But this year the NASA approval package went as we retained Earth Sciences almost totally … I do not know if the Republicans understood it with increasing evidence of climate change, we needed to keep the earth science or if they thought this was the appropriate political compromise … But that was encouraging.
I think if the Democrats take back the Chamber and take over the Science, Space and Technology Committee, we will maintain a very strong emphasis on basic science. It was NASA that calculated that climate change was a matter in the first place.
I also believe that one of the priorities … [for Democrats will be to] drives long-term long-term financing. One of the complaints from NASA over the years is the Congress is going hot and is then run cold in terms of funding. We all … as predictability … so we can plan effectively.
Do you think there is enough support in Congress to fund NASA’s prospecting goals?
Yes, I think so. I obviously think it will be bipartisan. There are quite people who are very concerned about the human needs of real people in our lives today, [like] hunger, housing and care that require state resources.
But if you count the incredible size of the budget and NASA’s $ 19 billion … It’s a small part of 1 percent of the federal budget to cater for the greater human pursuit of exploration [and] for science that is really valuable .
I do not mean to sound like a disaster … but we have stressed this planet very much and explore other planets starting with Mars … will help us take care of this planet better and maybe one day give us some alternatives to the earth. If we do not extend, we screened that opportunity. None of these things are easy. We will not only move humanity to Mars. But see how far we have come in the past 100 years. The next 100 years can provide dramatically new opportunities for us. I think covering our investments is a very wise thing.
What are your priorities in space?
The main priority I have right now is WFIRST … mostly because it really became brief in the latest NASA authorization. It was a matter that was a high priority for the astrophysics community, which did not get enough attention, so I will push it on.
The other thing I’m really worried about is the whole spacecracking question. There are 20,000 human objects in circulation. Much is very small, so it is analogous to the question of plastic in the Indian Ocean. As we put more and more space into space, especially in the earth’s circulation, if we do not understand how best we can handle the junk problem, we can cost us huge money and destroy other critical features. It is an important new area for us to really come in.
And all the time we get ready for Mars. Having the commercial people out there, whether it’s Virgin [Galactic] or [Blue Origin owned by Jeff] Bezos or Elon Musk [at SpaceX] gives them all the counter-tests and incentives for NASA research. I think everything makes for this great beautiful mosaic that helps us understand the universe much better. If Elon Musk can come to Mars before NASA does, it’s okay, we’ll learn from it.
Are you worried that geopolitical events can worsen the close relationship in space between the US and Russia?
It’s really a possibility and it would be very unfortunate. So far, it does not appear to have deteriorated. I have asked each of the astronauts I met who have fled the space station about the relationship with the Russians and they have only been full of praise for the comradeship and cooperation.
My view is that the relationship with Russia is quite stressed in terms of disturbances in our election and the question of competing security interests in places like Syria, but we are doing well to share intelligence and really good in space. We must continue to do that. This is one of the areas where we build so many bridges of common common interest and benefits as we can and hopefully it will also calm down things at the more political level.