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A Texas flag on Mars?

We have takeoff. The newly launched Texas Space Commission is on the rise after Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan recently appointed the agency's first nine-member crew and board, respectively.

State officials hope the commission, composed of some of the brightest aerospace industry 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 flies on the Red Planet? That's the dream. But the agency will remain ineffective unless it stays above the political battle plaguing state politics and avoids potential conflicts of interest.

The 2023 State Legislature established the Commission and its sister agency, the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium, to support and advance the state's well-established aerospace research and industry ecosystem.

It also set aside $350 million to fund the commission's work, $200 million of which will be used to build a Texas A&M University-led research facility on vacant land next to NASA's Johnson Space Center. The consortium's nine-member board, also recently appointed, will advise the commission on allocating the remaining $150 million in grants.

In addition to the Johnson Space Center, Texas is also 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 will account for a large portion of the expected $1 trillion global space industry by 2040, according to the think tank Texas 2036.

The commission's board includes communications specialist Gwen Griffin; Kathy Lueders, the general manager of Starbase at SpaceX; John Shannon, vice president of space exploration systems at 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 home builder 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 high goals. But like any politically appointed body, they can be vulnerable to political games of favoritism and deal-making that undermine the process. We are pleased that House Bill 3447, the enabling legislation authored by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, includes a conflict of interest section. It requires, in part, that any board member who has a professional or financial interest in an organization applying for grants must recuse themselves.

The Commission and the consortium must also publish regular reports ensuring the necessary transparency of their activities. Both entities will be affiliated with the Governor's Office. According to legislative documents, the commission will employ 10 people.

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

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Anna Harden

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