COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The unexpected resignation of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), NASA's most powerful ally in Congress, sent shockwaves through the space community.
DeLay, who stepped down as House majority leader last fall after being indicted in Texas, announced April 3 that he would not seek reelection this November and would be leaving Congress some time this year.
DeLay is credited with almost single handedly securing NASA's congressional budget victories of the past two years and had vowed during a March 30 appropriations hearing to fight to get NASA more funding for 2007 than the $16.792 billion requested by the White House.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has frequently remarked that the U.S. space agency has "no better friend" than DeLay.
"I very much appreciate the support NASA has receive from Congressman DeLay and wish him well in the future," Griffin said in a written statement provided April 4 by his press secretary, Dean Acosta.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee, said during an April 4 panel discussion here at the National Space Symposium here, that DeLay "was a great advocate for space."
"He will be missed, at least as far as I am concerned," Calvert said. "He's a good friend and a good friend of the space community."
DeLay's influence in passing NASA legislation was also noted by the space and aeronautics subcommittee's Ranking Democrat, Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado.
"Tom DeLay, in whatever areas you might have a disagreement with him, was very active in [space]. We saw that in the NASA authorization process," Udall said during the panel discussion. "There are a number of other allies who will continue to lend their support. People like [Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison and other members of the Texas delegation who are clearly keyed in but the seniority and the clout he has will not be easily replaced."
That sentiment was echoed by many attendees of the National Space Symposium, including Robert Walker, the former Republic House Science Committee chairman who now lobbies Congress on behalf of aerospace companies.
"Cleary Tom DeLay has been a powerful ally inside the appropriations process and the leadership process in the Congress and you don't lose an ally like that without having some consequences," Walker said in an interview.
Udall, however, said he "wouldn't write off" DeLays influence on this year's appropriations cycle.
"He still has influence, he still has friends, and he is still, I believe, committed to the space program" Udall said in an interview following his panel discussion. "There will be sentiments in the House to do the right thing by Mr. DeLay."
Walker said NASA still has other valuable allies on the House Appropriations Committee besides DeLay, notably Rep. Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican who counts many Kennedy Space Center employees among his constituents.
"I think he can potentially become the new strong voice inside the appropriations process for space," Walker said.
Walker said the addition of Calvert to the appropriations committee, a move considered a possibility next year, would give NASA another "great ally" in the annual budget battle.
Calvert said during the panel discussion that although he considers himself a conservative Republican, he still believes that more funding is needed for science overall.
"We just need to push to see if we can increase the size of the pie. I'm certainly going to try," Calvert said.
Walker also said the community needs a plan for ensuring "an even broader base of support" for space inside Congress.
"The far bigger question is whether this community can get a broad base of allies inside the Congress so that we are not constantly fighting those kinds of battle where you depend upon one person at the last minute to pull out a miracle," Walker said.