Senate panel hears BAHEP president on importance of International Space Station funding after 2024

August 1st, 2018

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has been an avid supporter of NASA, and specifically of the missions of the NASA’s Johnson Space Center, for decades. Elected officials and the media often consult with BAHEP President Bob Mitchell to share his expertise in regard to the aerospace industry.

In May 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz, chairman of the Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation invited Mitchell to provide testimony before his subcommittee regarding the International Space Station.

Given just five minutes to state his support for federal funding for the ISS beyond 2025, Mitchell testified before the subcommittee on June 6, 2018. Following is his testimony in full.

Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Nelson, distinguished members of the committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to testify on the important topic of the International Space Station.

I serve as the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a member-driven, 501(c)( 6) nonprofit economic development organization located just outside the gates of the Johnson Space Center in Bay Area Houston. We have over 268 members, which include a diverse mix of businesses in aerospace, medical, life sciences, petrochemicals, and maritime.

We also are proud to work on initiatives that contribute to the economic growth of the 13 cities and two counties in the area around the Johnson Space Center. Although aerospace companies make up a fraction of our membership, the entire business community understands and values the contributions of NASA and the space community in making all of our lives better.

The ISS is a critical element of the work performed in Houston at the Johnson Space Center and the backbone to maintaining a number of key elements of our success in human spaceflight: the astronaut corps, mission control, countless technical resources, and world-class researchers. The Johnson Space Center offers an unparalleled national capability that has been built over decades of experience. The loss of or weakening of its capabilities would have dramatic implications to our outcomes in deep space exploration.

The Return on Investment (ROI) on the ISS can be calculated in many ways. It is difficult to quantify the exact dollar value of many of these returns, but the overall impact is undeniable. The International Space Station – by its design and enactment – has established the foundation for sustained generation of technology that improves life on earth.

Each year, spinoffs like new drugs, materials, and scientific technology become licensed and begin generating new revenue streams for companies large and small.

Beyond the ability to show an ROI, the International Space Station positions us to tackle the challenge of deep space by buying down cost and risk now to give missions to the Moon and Mars a head start. The station is a critical, inexpensive test bed for exploration hardware that needs to work perfectly on its first live mission. It allows us to test, tweak, and perfect life support systems, radiation abatement methods, and other advanced materials. These breakthroughs will eventually make it from the launch pad into our homes and businesses across America.

Through engagement with the Russian space agency and 13 other ISS partners, the U.S. has led an era of peaceful collaboration and exploration that has provided stability in space leading to the current level of space commercialization.This commitment to the ISS — uninterrupted for the last 25 years — has provided more than just a destination in space. The ISS has cultivated:

  • A cultural learning lab for diplomacy, education, and inspiration
  • A learning lab for technology applications – testing performance machines, materials, and humans in space
  • A science lab for comparing terrestrial knowledge in a new frontier of weightlessness
  • A lab for exploring both our earth and outer space in preparation for the next exploration endeavors

I think it is important to take a detailed look at the overall ISS budget, which is often cited at $3 billion per year. What is misleading about that estimate is that the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs are funded out of those funds, along with overhead costs at the centers housing the programs and other expenses. The real ISS budget is a fraction of that total cost, ranging from $1B – $1.5B/year. Saving this much each year will have a minimal impact on our overall exploration efforts in terms of a funds transfer. Commercial alternatives would likely cost significantly more than sustaining the ISS, essentially creating an entirely new development program, while providing a fraction of the existing capabilities.

If the U.S. government terminates its support of the ISS in 2025, and we step away from ISS before an equivalent long-term engagement is created, there will be a disruption in the space program and the emerging commercial space industry.

Not very long ago, NASA’s Constellation Program was cancelled at the same time as the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program, which had a profoundly negative impact on America’s leadership position in space.

I sincerely hope that we all learned a valuable lesson from this and trust that you will not allow history to repeat itself! My position is that the U.S. government should commit to the ISS for as long as it is safely feasible to do so.

However, as we succeed, others look to follow. As you have probably seen, just last week China invited other nations to partner with them on their space station. They realize, as we do, the power of these partnerships and the leadership and the technology that can be gained from them.

As we question our commitment to the future of ISS, the Chinese space program is actively seeking to leverage this moment in time to provide an alternative path and platform for our traditional international partners in space. This has very serious implications for our national security, trade and technology partnerships and leadership if this is not managed carefully. At the end of the day, the ISS program is the culmination of all of the reasons we are so passionate about the entire space program – it represents America’s future in global leadership, education, innovation, healthcare, and our quality of life.

Thank you for the invitation to speak on this topic, and I look forward to your questions.

Local delegation holds high-level meetings in Washington to advocate for coastal spine

December 1st, 2017

As the rays of the morning sun filter through the fence surrounding the White House, the Bay Area delegation prepares for a full day of meetings. They are, from left, Morgan’s Point Mayor Michel Bechtel, Houston City Councilman David Robinson, BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, Texas A&M at Galveston Executive Professor Col. Len Waterworth, Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, Space City Films Chief Storytelling Officer Marc Havican, Economic Alliance Houston Port Region President and CEO Chad Burke, Texas State Sen. Larry Taylor and Texas Chemical Council President and CEO Hector Rivero.

By Kathryn Paradis

The momentum to build a coastal spine to protect the people, businesses and industries of the upper Texas Gulf Coast has been building steadily since Hurricane Ike devastated the region in September 2008.

The past year has seen a huge jump in activity, notably with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush fully endorsing the coastal spine. An April 2017 letter from Bush to President Trump, signed by 62 committed stakeholders, further strengthened the  case on the critical need for the coastal spine.

This region produces 27 percent of the nation’s gasoline, 60 percent of the nation’s aviation fuel, 80 percent of the nation’s military grade fuel, 35 percent of the nation’s natural gas production, and 42 percent of the nation’s specialty chemical feedstock. To say that the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has a vested interest in the Bay Area Houston region would be quite an understatement.

On Nov. 1-2, 2017, in Washington, D.C., a delegation of 13 held Cabinet level meetings, as well as other meetings necessary in moving the initiative forward, to create an interagency working group to champion the project.

The ACC arranged the meetings, and Cal Dooley, president/CEO,  and Bryan Zumwalt, ACC vice president, Federal Affairs, led the delegation that included Texas members pictured here, as well as Stephanie Pizzoferrato, U.S. Government Affairs, Covestro LLC and Kristin Whitman, Government Relations, Shell.

The delegation’s message was straightforward — nationalize the issue of storm surge protection for the Southeast Texas coast by showing the region’s significance to the nation’s economy, energy, defense and port related transportation.

The delegation asked for the approval and full funding of the $12-$15 billion project and expedition of the Army Corps of Engineers process to dual track engineering, construction and permitting in the same way that the New Orleans project was done post Hurricane Katrina.

The delegation’s first day began at the headquarters of the ACC to prepare for the coalition meetings. Following were meetings with the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy, and a dinner meeting with Texas Congressmen Randy Weber, Pete Olson, Brian Babin and John Culberson.

On Nov. 2, there were meetings with the Office of Management and Budget; Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate’s Environmental Committee (Chief of Staff Dan Kunsman); Oklahoma’s Sen. James Inhofe, Senate Armed Service Committee (Chief of Staff Luke Holland); Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Senate Committee on Finance; and several staff members of the Office of the Vice President Pence.

The next steps will be to follow up with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Sen. Cornyn, and the vice president’s staff to encourage setting up an inter-agency working group to push for approval, funding and expedition of the Corps process on this project.

Bob Mitchell, president, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, noted later, “It is significant that the ACC contacted Chad Burke of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, who asked BAHEP to form a special team to meet with influential offices and agencies in Washington. After nine years of work, this indicates that we’re on the cusp of getting the funding necessary to design, develop and build the coastal spine system.”

Celebrating the celebration

November 1st, 2016

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell thanks Communications Director Kathryn Paradis for all her hard work writing the BAHEP history for the 40th anniversary celebration.

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell thanks Communications Director Kathryn Paradis for all her hard work writing the BAHEP history for the 40th anniversary celebration.

By Mary Alys Cherry

It isn’t everyday one gets to plan a 40th anniversary celebration. So it is little wonder that those on the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership planning committee took their task quite seriously.

They didn’t just meet once or twice and leave most of the work to the hotel staff; over a period of months they met weekly sometimes and bi-weekly others, examining every minute detail, determining what  would work at the site (the South Shore Harbour Resort Crystal Ballroom) and what would not by meeting there and trying things out.

They went out to UH-Clear Lake to look through historical documents, to be sure their history was correct. They rummaged through hundreds of photographs that told much of their story. They talked with those who played key roles in the beginning. Then they invited them to the celebration.

And, when it was over, BAHEP President Bob Mitchell couldn’t stop smiling. He couldn’t think of a thing that should have been done differently. Everything had gone as planned. Just a perfect evening with many of those who worked to get BAHEP started 40 years ago on hand to reminisce and look forward to the 50th anniversary.

Such a success that Pat and Wendell Wilson decided they all needed to celebrate. So they hosted a dinner party at their bayfront home in Seabrook, where many committee members reflected on the fun they had had planning the event and began thinking of the big 50.

Bay Area Houston Magazine