AUSTIN, February 27 - The chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations shocked Rio Grande Valley leaders on Wednesday by saying SpaceX could launch manned commercial flights to Mars from Brownsville within the next two years.
State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, expressed his enthusiasm for the futuristic space project at an informal briefing in during RGV Day at the Capitol.
Pitts said the economic development potential with SpaceX is huge for the Valley and Texas. He also said the company’s founder, Elon Musk, will be coming to the Capitol to speak to the House appropriations committee next week.
“His goal is to launch a manned vehicle to Mars from Brownsville, Texas, in two years,” Pitts said. “Wow,” was the general reaction from Valley leaders in the room.
Pitts said the legislature can play an important role in helping land SpaceX. According to media reports, Puerto Rico is also courting the company.
“We have a lot of demands on our budget but there is something I am pretty passionate about and that is SpaceX,” Pitts said, as he kicked off his briefing. “It will change the face not only of the Rio Grande Valley but it will change the face of Texas. Everyone will know about the Rio Grande Valley if we get this done.”
Pitts said he met with Musk in California recently. He said he got to drive in one of his amazing electric cars. “It’s like driving a jet airplane on the ground,” Pitts said. Pitts said he may go and visit SpaceX’s test facility near Waco tomorrow. He also said he has invited Musk to his house to discuss SpaceX further. “I am having a party at my house for Elon. I went out to California to see him to see what it is all about,” Pitts told the Valley leaders.
Pitts said the two Valley members on the House appropriations committee – Reps. Sergio Muñoz and Oscar Longoria – will “lead the charge” on getting state funding for SpaceX. Asked what things Texas has to do to get SpaceX to build a launch site at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Pitts joked: “The first is for Oscar and Sergio to give him $2 million.” That brought laughter from the Valley leaders.
Pitts said the legislature can also help SpaceX by amending the Open Beach Act. An amendment may be necessary so Boca Chica Beach can be closed for a few hours while SpaceX’s vehicles are launched into space. “On certain times, that beach is going to have to close,” Pitts said.
Pitts said SpaceX is the only private space flight company with a license to go to a U.S. space station. He said he was invited to see a space vehicle launch from Cape Canaveral but was unable to attend. “Friends of mine that did go said it was unbelievable the amount of people that were there. Just think of the number of people who will be in your (Valley) area at the first launching to Mars,” Pitts said.
Asked about the chances of Brownsville, Texas, winning the battle to land SpaceX, Pitts said: “They are real excited about coming to Texas. They really want to be in Texas. They are not going to say that Texas is it. All these other states or countries have incentive programs to bring these kinds of projects to their state.”
Pitts said he has always had a close affinity with the Valley. “I have always enjoyed visiting the Valley. It is growing fast,” Pitts said.
Among the Valley leaders at the briefing were Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, Willacy County Judge John Gonzales, San Juan Mayor San Juanita Sanchez, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, Edinburg City Councilmembers Elias Longoria and JT Betancourt, and state Reps. Bobby Guerra, Muñoz and Longoria.
The Rio Grande Valley Partnership organized RGV Day at the Capitol. Its president, Julian Alvarez, was among the Valley leaders to attend Pitts’ briefing.
“Everyone’s face just glowed when Chairman Pitts mentioned that there could be manned commercial space flights from Brownsville inside a couple of years,” Alvarez said. “It was very exciting to everyone in the room when he made the announcement that SpaceX is looking favorably about coming to South Texas. Everybody’s eyes just lit up. I glanced around the room and everybody was excited. It was good to see those who may not have been educated about SpaceX learning about it.”
Rep. Longoria said he is looking forward to Musk testifying before the House appropriations committee.
“I am really excited. This is a great opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley. SpaceX is using revolutionary technology and it is going to be a game changer for the Rio Grande Valley,” Longoria told the Guardian.
Asked what he thought when Pitts said commercial flights could be leaving Brownsville for Mars in a couple of years, Longoria said: “I still cannot believe it but I am sure it is going to get done. I do not doubt Elon Musk. He is a genius on some of the things he has worked on in the past.”
According to SpaceX’s website, the company was founded by Musk to “revolutionize space transportation, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” The website says that today, SpaceX is “advancing the boundaries of space technology through its Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon spacecraft.”
Prior to starting SpaceX, Musk cofounded PayPal. He also runs Tesla Motors, which designs the all-electric Tesla Roadster, Model S and Model X.
The City of Brownsville has been courting SpaceX for the past year. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez was at the state Capitol on Wednesday for RGV Day but was unable to attend the briefing from Pitts. Earlier in the day, Martinez told the Guardian: “SpaceX looks very positive. There are no guarantees but everything went extremely well when I went to visit Mr. Musk,” Martinez said.