Kendra Horn debates then-U.S. Rep. Steve Russell on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, at City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City. (Michael Duncan)

(Editor’s note: The following story appears courtesy of Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK5) was named chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, giving Oklahoma’s lone Democrat a chance to use her background in space policy while helping one of her state’s leading industries.

Aerospace and aviation is Oklahoma’s second largest industry, said Victor Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

“Being in a position like that — high profile, distinguished position in the House — that’s only a plus for Oklahoma,” Bird said. “That’s a very good thing for our industry.”

The freshman Democrat’s background in space policy should be helpful as chairwoman of the subcommittee. Before running for office, Horn served as the manager of government affairs and then manager of communications and media relations for the Space Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to education, advocacy and more on behalf of the global space community.

“My background in the space industry prepares me to be a positive and impactful voice for our state on the important issues of space and aeronautics,” Horn said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my committee colleagues — including fellow Oklahoman Rep. Frank Lucas, the committee’s ranking member — in a bipartisan manner to make further strides in the science, space and technology fields.”

With Horn’s position as chairwoman of the subcommittee on space and aeronautics, Oklahomans now play a large role in America’s space policy. Jim Bridenstine, who formerly represented Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district, was sworn in as NASA Administrator in April. Additionally, Kelvin Droegemeier — a meteorologist, former vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma and former Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology — was confirmed by the Senate as President Donald Trump’s science advisor on Jan. 2.

“(Horn’s) high profile, that she is from Oklahoma, I think it will put an emphasis on the fact that we are definitely an aerospace state,” Bird said. “I believe it’s correct that we have more astronauts per capita from Oklahoma than any other state … so (Horn) really continues a proud tradition, and (Oklahoma companies) have made at least one part for every NASA program.”

Horn was elected chairwoman of the subcommittee after being appointed to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee last week. Lucas (R-OK3) serves as the committee’s ranking member. Horn is also a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy as well as the House Armed Services Committee.

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee background

The subcommittee oversees matters relating to astronautical and aeronautical research and development, NASA, aeronautical research, Federal Aviation Administration demonstration programs, civil aviation demonstration programs and other space and aeronautics fields.

Aeronautics have become an important industry for Oklahoma. More than 250 aviation and aerospace companies in the greater Oklahoma City area employ more than 38,000 workers, according to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce website. Boeing, American Airlines and other major companies have facilities in Oklahoma. The Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, located in Oklahoma City, houses the Federal Aviation Administration Academy, which trains air traffic controllers from around the world.

President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Department of Defense to create a Space Force in June 2018. The Space Force will be an independent branch of the U.S. military, and it is unclear whether Horn’s subcommittee will have input as it is being implemented.

“Space and aeronautics have taken our country to the moon, expanded our horizons and resulted in technological development, economic benefit and countless innovations for our world,” Horn said in her press statement.