A Texas flag on Mars?

We have achieved takeoff. The newly enacted Texas Space Commission is in full swing after Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan recently named the agency’s first nine-member team or board of directors.

State officials hope the commission, made up of some of the brightest aerospace minds on Earth, will help Texas scientists and companies make significant advances in space research, exploration and commercial travel. The governor’s ambitions extend to colonizing Mars.

The Texas flag flying on the red planet? That’s the dream. But the agency will be ineffective if it does not stay above the political strife that plagues state politics and stay away from potential conflicts of interest.

The 2023 state Legislature created the commission and its sister agency, the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium, to support and promote the state’s well-established aerospace research and industrial ecosystem.

He also set aside $350 million to fund the commission’s work, $200 million of which will go toward building a research facility run by Texas A&M University on vacant land adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The consortium’s nine-member executive committee, also recently appointed, will advise the commission on how to allocate the remaining $150 million in grants.

In addition to the Johnson Space Center, Texas is home to divisions of giants such as SpaceX, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin, as well as manufacturing and research operations of thousands of smaller aerospace companies. The state is poised to be a big part of the global space industry that is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2040, according to the think tank Texas 2036.

The commission’s board includes communications specialist Gwen Griffin; Kathy Lueders, CEO of Starbase at SpaceX; John Shannon, vice president of Space Exploration Systems, Boeing Co.; Sarah Duggleby, co-founder of Venus Aerospace; Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin; Evan Loomis, co-founder of futuristic homebuilder ICON; Heather Wilson, president of the University of Texas at El Paso; Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute; and Brad Morrison, founder of Atlantis Industries.

Both the commission and the consortium have ambitious goals. But as with any politically appointed body, they can be vulnerable to political games of favoritism and negotiation that taint the process. We are glad to see that House Bill 3447, the enabling legislation authored by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, contains a section on conflicts of interest. Requires in part that any board member with a professional or financial interest in any entity seeking a grant must recuse themselves.

The commission and the consortium must also publish regular reports, which will provide the necessary transparency to their activities. Both entities will be attached to the governor’s office. According to legislative documents, the commission will employ 10 people.

“Texas will be the launching pad for Mars,” Abbott declared at the announcement ceremony. We can dare to dream.

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