Richard Shelby, the senator with significant control over NASA is set to retire

A prominent senator who has traditionally been a champion for some NASA projects and an opponent of others, Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), declared on February 8 that next year he will not seek reelection. In a letter, Shelby announced that in the year 2022, he will not attempt a seventh tenure in the Senate. He did not offer a reason for choosing not to vie again in the statement other than saying, “There is a period for everything.” However, there had been lots of speculation that he was not going to seek reelection, especially because he had not collected any money for that bid.

After 8-years in the Assembly, the 86-year-old Shelby joined the Senate in the year 1986. Shelby has served as a Democrat in the House and for the very first 8-years in the Senate, moving to the Republican party in the year 1994. In the space industry, Shelby is known for starring in influencing NASA initiatives as a representative of the Senate Appropriations Committee. That included positions as chairperson of the subcommittee on commerce, justice as well as science, whose authority encompasses NASA, as well as the full committee. He is now the majority leader of the full committee, with the Democrats in charge of the Senate.

“I have worked to strengthen the position of Alabama in the discovery of space as well as our nation’s defense,” Shelby stated in the declaration disclosing his intention not to seek reelection. This includes funding for projects including the Space Launch System, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “I get more than a slight interest in what the NASA Agency does, as chairperson of the Appropriations Committee. And I also have a slight parochial concern in what they’re doing in Huntsville, Alabama,’ he stated at an industry conference in March 2019 where he unveiled Jody Singer, the Marshall’s director. “You continue doing what you are doing, Jody. We’re going to keep supporting you.”

The aid for SLS, and the impact he had, was seen again later that very same month. At the Senate hearing after the then-NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine indicated that NASA could use a vehicle apart from SLS to launch Orion on the uncrewed test flight initially known as EM-1, but now named Artemis-1, Shelby weighed in. “While I acknowledge that the SLS deploy schedule delay is inappropriate, I maintain strongly that Orion should be launched by SLS,” he stated. Quite immediately thereafter, Bridenstine suggested that SLS was “a vital capacity for this nation,” and later dropped the plan to use a separate vehicle for that mission, a bid to keep its release on track for 2020.

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