Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, received a surprise going-away gift from the Senate this week: It named an astronaut training building at the Johnson Space Center in his honor.
The came at the end of debate on an appropriations bill for space, housing and veterans - and had a liberal Democrat leading the cheering for the retiring conservative Utah Republican.Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of an appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA on which Garn is the ranking Republican, told the Senate that Garn "was not aware that I would take this action. He is not the kind of guy that wants a lot of fuss made over him."
She added, "But I think we should make some fuss over him because he has been an exemplary member of the U.S. Senate and one of only two Senate astronauts. Therefore, I think it would be a fitting tribute."
She noted Garn flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985, is a retired brigadier general in the Utah Air National Guard and is a former Navy flier, and noted "he is best known for his passionate support for the space program."
Garn said, "I am not only surprised but humbled . . .. I spent a good deal of time in that particular building in the motion space simulator as well as the fixed base simulator, so I have fond memories of that period of time."
He said he has always loved flight and space travel, and therefore is particularly happy with the new honor. "I received my private pilot's license on the morning of my 16th birthday and my driver's license in the afternoon. So I think that is probably an indication of a lifetime of love of things that fly."
Mikulski noted that she is a liberal and Garn is a conservative, but they still worked closely in a bipartisan way on their subcommittee, and added, "I thank him for what he has done for the United States of America."
Garn said, "We are a liberal Democrat from Maryland and a Republican conservative from Utah, and we had an extremely good working relationship. I only wish that the whole Congress could work on that basis and put aside partisan differences and the country would be a lot better off."
The building to be named the Jake Garn Facility has been known as The Mission Simulator and Training Facility, Building No. 5.