NASA Inspector General Skeptical of Agency Plan for Commercializing Space Station

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts a session with the Capillary Flow Experiment. (Credit: NASA)

The NASA Inspector General is skeptical about the space agency’s plan to transition to commercial operations in Earth orbit after the end of direct federal support for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024, according to a new report.

“Transitioning the ISS to private operation under the timetable currently envisioned presents significant challenges in stimulating private sector interest to take on an extremely costly and complex enterprise,” the audit found. “Based on our audit work, we question the viability of NASA’s current plans, particularly with regard to the feasibility of fostering increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit on the timetable proposed…

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Sens. Cruz, Nelson & Markey Introduce Space Frontier Act

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, on Wednesday introduced the Space Frontier Act (S. 3277).

This commercial space bill builds upon the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act by streamlining and reforming the regulatory framework for commercial space launch and Earth observation operations, which is crucial to maintaining American leadership in space.

The bill also extends the operation and utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030 to ensure that the U.S. is getting the maximum return on American taxpayer investment to avoid creating a leadership vacuum in low Earth orbit.

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Trump Forgets Congress Exists, Orders Creation of Space Force

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Earlier today, Donald Trump bragged about the booming economy, defended his policy of separating refugee parents from their children, declared that one of his favorite places to visit is Alabama, and threatened to fire a new agency head if he screwed up.

In other words, a pretty standard rally speech he probably gave in Birmingham, Montgomery or someplace else in the Yellowhammer State (it’s a bird).

Only, in this case, he was in the White House at the third meeting of the National Space Council, whose agenda focused on space traffic management and how to leverage commercial activities in exploring the moon.

Trump didn’t disappoint here, either. Overshadowing the progress in these areas and the efforts of his vice president, Mike Pence, who chairs the council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to create an independent, separate but equal branch of the military: the Space Force. This new military service, which would be carved primarily out of the U.S. Air Force, would enable the America to dominate space, the president said.

Of course, Trump can’t simply order the Pentagon to do something so momentous; it will require the ascent of Congress, as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) helpfully pointed out.

A similar message came from the office of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy,” spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

So, stay tuned. The political fight has just begun.

Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

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Florida Governor to Challenge Bill Nelson for Senate Seat

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Three-term Florida Sen. Bill Nelson — a major supporter of NASA and the space program — will face a challenge in November from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, The Hill reports.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced on Monday that he’ll challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D), setting up a marquee battle that could help decide which party controls the Senate.

Scott sought to paint himself as an outsider and vowed to “shake up Washington” if elected in November, without naming Nelson during his speech….

Scott’s long-awaited announcement ends months of speculation and sets up what is expected to be the costliest race of the cycle against Nelson, a three-term incumbent.

It will also serve as a test for President Trump given the White House’s efforts to recruit Scott for the race. Trump won Florida in 2016’s presidential contest by a little more than a percentage point.

Scott, who because of term limits cannot run for a third term as governor, is a close ally of Trump. While Trump carried the state, Democrats and even some Republican believe that his closeness to Trump could be a liability if the president’s approval numbers don’t improve.

House Space Subcommittee Members Criticize Inaction on Bridenstine Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Members of the House Space Subcommittee were none-too-pleased on Wednesday when Robert Lightfoot showed up to testify about NASA’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget.

It had nothing to do with Lightfoot, whom members praised effusively for the job he’s done as acting administrator over the past 13 months. Lightfoot, a career civil servant, took over after Charles Bolden resigned as the President Barack Obama ended his term.

Instead, their anger was focused on the Senate, which has yet to take action on the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as NASA’s administrator six months after President Donald Trump nominated him.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s Proposed Human Exploration Plan

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would launch the first element of a human-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in 2022 under a proposed exploration plan that would make use of commercial and international partnerships.

A power and propulsion module would be followed soon afterward by habitation, airlock, and logistics modules. The gateway would serve as a base for astronauts to explore the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 lifted off from the surface in 1972.

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Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA Remains Blocked in Senate

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Bloomberg has an update on the impasse in the Senate over the Trump Administration’s nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become the next NASA administrator.

Bridenstine has been blocked by all 49 Senate Democrats. Florida’s Congressional delegation enjoys an outsized influence on NASA because of Cape Canaveral, and Senator Bill Nelson, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, isn’t a Bridenstine fan. His colleague Marco Rubio, the junior senator for the Sunshine State and a Republican, doesn’t want Bridenstine, either. With fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona absent for cancer treatment, that leaves confirmation 50-49 against….

Beyond [Acting Administrator Robert] Lightfoot, the lack of movement on Capitol Hill effectively leaves NASA leadership to Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, which [Donald] Trump revived last summer. The council has taken a direct role in overseeing NASA’s priorities, including the administration’s 2017 directive to return astronauts to the moon, but doesn’t have the same hands-on role an administrator would. Bridenstine has attended both National Space Council meetings, in October and last month, but only as an observer.

Rubio has argued that the NASA post shouldn’t be occupied by a politician, particularly one with stridently partisan positions. “It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics, and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” he told Politico in September.

Bridenstine, a member of the highly conservative House Freedom Caucus, has drawn Democratic opposition for his views on gay marriage and abortion rights, as well as past statements dismissing climate change. And he may have rubbed Republican Rubio, and possibly McCain, the wrong way on account of his past support for their primary opponents.

In the 2016 presidential primaries, Bridenstine, a former Navy fighter pilot with an interest in space issues, produced several advertisements supporting Texas Senator Ted Cruz in his failed quest for the Republican nomination. Those ads criticized Rubio, also a candidate, for his position on immigration and attacks on Cruz. Rubio has reportedly denied a connection between Bridenstine’s past barbs and his opposition to the NASA nomination. Bridenstine also supported McCain’s Republican rival, Kelli Ward, in a fierce 2016 primary campaign that McCain eventually won.

Read the full story.

Senate Commerce Committee to Vote on NASA CFO Nominee; Bridenstine’s Nomination Remains in Limbo

Jeffrey DeWit (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

UPDATE: DeWit’s nomination is no longer on the schedule. His nomination does not actually require committee approval.

The Senate Commerce Committee will consider the nomination of the former CFO and COO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to become NASA CFO on Wednesday.

Jeffrey DeWit currently serves as state treasurer of Arizona and chairman of the Arizona State Board of Investments. He was elected to a four-year term as state treasurer in 2014, and he said he did not plan to run for reelection this year.

If approved by the Commerce Committee, DeWit’s nomination would be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

In January 2016, Trump named him campaign chairman for Arizona. At the end of July, DeWit became COO of the national campaign.

The Trump campaign said DeWit would “focus on the operational aspects of the campaign including budgetary and logistical matters. He will create operational efficiencies as the campaign moves into the general election phase.”

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Sens. Cruz & Nelson Criticize Plan to End ISS Financial Support

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

Senators express concerns over proposed cuts to the International Space Station
in letters to Director Mulvaney, Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sens. Ted Cruz & Bill Nelson PR) – Last week, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competiveness, and the ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent the following oversight letters to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr. In the letters, the Senators expressed their concerns with the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request for NASA, which proposes ending direct U.S. Government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025.

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Mixed Reactions to Plans End Direct Federal Funding to ISS in 2025

This artist’s concept shows how a future robot called LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot) could inspect and maintain installations on the International Space Station. The robot would stick to the outside using a gecko-inspired gripping system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There have been some varied reactions to the Trump Administration’s proposal to end direct federal funding to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025 in favor of commercial ventures in low Earth orbit and a focus on returning astronauts to the moon.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

“The administration’s budget for NASA is a nonstarter. If we’re ever going to get to Mars with humans on board and return them safely, then we need a larger funding increase for NASA. The proposal would also end support for the International Space Station in 2025 and make deep cuts to popular education and science programs. Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense.”
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Bridenstine Attempts to Soften Anti-Science Image with The Science Guy

Bill Nye in Washington. (Credit: Planetary Society)

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is defending his controversial decision to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address this evening as a guest of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), whose nomination to serve as NASA administrator is facing a tough fight in the Senate.

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Bridenstine & Myers Nominations Sent on to Senate


by Douglas Messier

Managing Editor

As expected, the Senate Commerce Committee narrowly approved the Trump Administration’s nominations of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to serve as the administrators of NASA and NOAA, respectively.

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Sen. Patty Murray Opposes Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

With his confirmation hearing for the post of NASA administrator scheduled for Nov. 1, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is facing opposition from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) over his opposition to climate change research and “bigoted and hateful statements” he has made about gays, Muslims and women.

“Rep. Bridenstine’s background makes him an extremely concerning choice to lead this critical agency and its 19,000 diverse employees,” Murray wrote in a three-page letter released today.

“Rep. Bridenstine’s denial of climate change and consistent opposition to equal rights for women, immigrants, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals should disqualify him from consideration,” Given his very public statements and positions, its clear Rep. Bridenstine would move us backwards not forwards, and I urge you to vote against his nomination.”

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Florida Scientists Urge Nelson, Rubio to Oppose Bridenstine Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

A group of more than 40 Florida scientists have signed an open letter to Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to oppose the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become NASA administrator.

“The vital work of NASA’s Earth observation systems must continue without political interference,” the letter states. “We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising….

“We urge you to oppose Jim Bridenstine’s nomination,” the letter adds. “He has no scientific training and little administrative experience and he is not qualified to lead this prestigious agency.”

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