Florida Member of House Science Committee is Severely Factually Challenged

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Florida Congressman Michael Waltz is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. In January, he completed a two-year on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. So, he should know what he’s talking about on space.

Alas, he is severely factually challenged about the very thing he is supposedly an expert. Here is the assessment he gave to Fox News the other day about NASA and the U.S. space program:

MICHAEL WALTZ: More diversity in space than our astronauts, great. What we need to be focused on is getting more Americans into space because right now the Chinese are passing us. They are kicking our butts up there, and it’s a real problem. Brian, more launches, more Chinese launches in space last year than the rest of the world combined, including the United States. As you said, just put their own astronauts in their own space station, which is brand new and being built, ours is 30 years old and decrepit. China and Russia have an agreement to put a manned space station on the moon by the end of the decade. The Chinese just sent lunar lander and moon rocks because they plan to mine the moon for rare Earth minerals. We haven’t done that since the 1970s. 

So, let’s break this down….

…the Chinese are passing us. They are kicking our butts up there, and it’s a real problem.

China’s growing space program is a very serious challenge on both the military and civilian fronts. But, this claim is excessive.

Brian, more launches, more Chinese launches in space last year than the rest of the world combined, including the United States.

What?!?! The U.S. launched 44 times in 2020 with 40 successes and four failures in 2020. China launched 39 times with 35 successes and four failures. The next closest country was Russia with 17 launches. The U.S. is ahead of China in launches as we approach the midpoint of 2021.

The U.S. launch sector is in excellent shape. The country has a fleet of reliable boosters on which to launch payloads. New launch vehicles are coming online. That’s not to say there won’t be setbacks in the future, but the U.S. isn’t having any trouble getting satellites into space.

As you said, just put their own astronauts in their own space station, which is brand new and being built, ours is 30 years old and decrepit.

The first part of this statement is true. Although the International Space Station is definitely showing its age with air leaks in a Russian module, it’s not exactly decrepit. It just passed 20 years in orbit, not 30. Obviously, elements of the station are older than 20 years.

China and Russia have an agreement to put a manned space station on the moon by the end of the decade.

No. Most of the work involved in establishing a base would begin in 2031 with human landings beginning in 2036. See: China, Russia reveal roadmap for international moon base

The Chinese just sent lunar lander and moon rocks because they plan to mine the moon for rare Earth minerals. We haven’t done that since the 1970s. 

True. However, he doesn’t mention that NASA has given out a number of contracts under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to explore the moon’s surface. How well CLPS works remains to be seen, but NASA is hardly ignoring the Chinese challenge on the moon.

Waltz also said the following:

Oh and by the way, they’re on Mars, too. What is the Biden administration’s response? They just cut the program that would get us to the moon by 2024 by 75%. Vice President [Kamala] Harris announced that she was going to continue the National Space Council. She has yet to schedule a meeting. Maybe she’ll get to that after she gets to the border and after she gets to Europe. I don’t know. Meanwhile, they are busily making these videos and worried about what color our astronauts are. I just want them to be American and have that American flag and not a Chinese flag because our entire modern economy is dependent on what’s up there and militarily you can’t be number one on Earth if you are number two in space.

What is the Biden administration’s response? They just cut the program that would get us to the moon by 2024 by 75%.

Last year, then NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made it abundantly clear that NASA needed $3.2 billion for the lunar program in FY 2020 to land astronauts on the moon in 2024. In December, Congress provided the program with only $850 million. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats, the Senate by Republicans.

Congressman Waltz would certainly know this fact. Blaming the Biden Administration for delays in the landing isn’t accurate or fair.

Meanwhile, they are busily making these videos and worried about what color our astronauts are. 

The Mission Equity initiative that NASA recently launched is one of those hot button issues that people can demagogue about on news channels. But, it is a very tiny part of the agency’s overall portfolio and budget, despite what Waltz would have people believe.

If you want to see what NASA’s priorities are, look at the budget. Aside from a boost to the Earth Science budget, Biden’s programmatic priorities remain much the same as those of the previous administration. The other major exception being the 2024 lunar landing, but as mentioned earlier Congress rejected that plan last year.

For better or worse, there has been a broad, bipartisan consensus about the civilian space program for many years. This sort of factually challenged demagoguing doesn’t really help Congress and the Biden Administration move forward in meeting the challenge.