“The Search for Life” is a NASA Action Item

Returning to the moon isn’t NASA’s only major project.

On Wednesday, during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on the first results from the James Webb Space Telescope, a senior NASA official said one of the space agency’s next goals is to build a larger space telescope that will help answer the question of whether we’re alone in the universe.

The comments were made in response to a question from Rep. Melanie Stansbury, DN.M., who also highlighted New Mexico’s contributions to the James Webb Project during the hearing. Tony Hull, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Mexico who, as a NASA contractor, led a team that polished the telescope’s mirrors, was among the posts Stansbury referred to.

“I think the next big challenge is the search for life,” said Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division, when Stansbury asked him what’s next.

To that end, NASA will seek to build a “20-foot or more” space telescope that will search for habitable planets outside our solar system around sun-like stars, he said.

The comments came during a meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

CHACO BILL: The New Mexico Democratic congressional delegation is attempting to create a permanent buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

New Mexico Democratic Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Democratic Representatives Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernández introduced a Chaco Canyon bill Thursday. The bill would prevent future leasing and development of oil, gas and minerals on federal land within a 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Canyon.

Part of the national park system, the historical park between Albuquerque and Farmington is known around the world for the multi-story buildings built by the Chacoans. The place was a center of culture in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. According to Luján’s office, it is one of 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

“Since my election, protecting Chaco Canyon’s valuable environmental and cultural resources has been my top priority,” said Luján, who introduced similar legislation during his time in the House of Representatives.

TRAVEL FORECAST: Airlines have had a bit of trouble this summer, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

The head of the agency, who was visiting Albuquerque this week, said things have improved but he remains concerned about airlines going into the holiday season.

From June 1 to August 31, 22.5% of domestic flights were delayed and 2.5% or about 45,000 flights were cancelled.

How did Albuquerque compare to the rest of the country?

Of the 5,273 flights that departed Albuquerque last summer, 21.2% were delayed and 1.2%, or 65 flights, were cancelled.

Of flights to Duke City, 26.3% were delayed and 1% were cancelled.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in Albuquerque this week that the agency is monitoring the situation.

“We are following the problems in the national aviation system very closely,” he said. “It seems to have improved since the summer, but we’re still concerned about the fluidity going into Thanksgiving and then the winter travel holidays.”

Ryan Boetel: [email protected]