Sheila Jackson Lee's alleged 'flag on Mars' question revisited 25 years on

Eve Edwards January 18, 2023
Sheila Jackson Lee's alleged 'flag on Mars' question revisited 25 years on
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Take Back the Court Action Fund

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Alleged comments Sheila Jackson Lee once made about wanting to see the “flag on Mars” have been unearthed by FOX News’ Tucker Carlson in his latest segment.

On Tuesday night’s show (January 17, 2023), Tucker Carlson revisited the alleged comments which were thought to have been made in the 1990s.

Jackson Lee has served as the US representative for Texas’s 18th congressional district since 1995, which includes most of Houston. Given Jackson Lee’s district lies just a stone’s throw from the NASA Johnson Space Center, this alleged ignorance of basic space knowledge came as a shock to many Texans.

But did Sheila Jackson Lee really say that she wanted to see the “flag on Mars”? Let’s take a look at how these comments came to light.

Photo by Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sheila Jackson Lee allegedly wanted to see a ‘flag on Mars’

In the November 1997 issue of Texas Monthly, two terms into Sheila Jackson Lee’s role as a US representative, a story about Lee’s trip to the Mars Pathfinder Operations Center in Pasadena, California was widely publicized.

During this trip, which was covered by Sandy Hume for The Hill, it was alleged that Jackson Lee asked if the Mars Pathfinder had been successful in taking pictures of the American flag placed on Mars by Neil Armstrong in the summer of 1969. This would be impossible, as Neil Armstrong placed a flag on the Moon that year.

Hume was not present on the trip to the NASA center, but he reportedly heard the question asked by a committee staffer who was present, Texas Monthly claims. Jackson Lee’s Science Committee colleague, Republican Congressman Vernon Ehlers, also allegedly heard the Houston rep ask the question.

Jackson Lee was on the Committee of Science during the NASA visit

As these alleged comments came to light, concerns were raised given Sheila Jackson Lee’s evident confusion between Mars and the Moon. These concerns were weighted given that Jackson Lee served on the House Committee of Science at the time she visited the Mars Pathfinder Operations Center.

Jackson Lee served on the subcommittee that specifically oversaw space policy and NASA, which is why she was visiting the center.

Doubts cast on Sheila Jackson Lee’s ‘flag on Mars’ comments

In the 25 years since these alleged comments came to light, doubt has been cast on their legitimacy. No one present on the 1997 trip to NASA has confirmed that Sheila Jackson Lee made such comments about Mars. It has been reported that Jackson Lee, Vernon Ehlers, and a staff director present all denied the question about a flag on Mars was ever asked.

General reporting of the alleged comments has also mixed up the story time and again, casting further doubts about their validity. In 2013, the National Review claimed that Jackson Lee had made a trip to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2005, not the summer of 1997.

It appears that this rumor has been propagated in internet forums, by those opposing Sheila Jackson Lee. It has been used as a point of criticism of the politician throughout her decades-long career.

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Take Back the Court Action Fund
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Eve Edwards is a staff writer for The Focus who has been with GRV Media since April 2019. Having gained a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Bristol, Eve joined GRV starting out as a writer for Reality Titbit before making her way over to HITC. With a passion for music, TV, and cultural news, Eve eventually found a home at The Focus. Eve spent 2021-2022 freelancing for GRV Media while she completed a Masters in Music Performance, and brings her wide array of interests to the company in her written work. In Eve's spare time you'll find her working her way through the day's Wordle, Heardle, and Quordle, or struggling to complete The Guardian's cryptic crossword.