Clock is Ticking on NASA Human Deep Space Program

Lamar Smith

It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.

George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.

In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.

More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.

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XCOR Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Lynx suborbital space plane (Credit: XCOR)

MOJAVE, Calif. – Troubled XCOR Aerospace, a pioneer in reusable rocket engine technology, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court on Wednesday, according to court documents.

The filing will lead to the liquidation of the 18-year old company, whose engine technology was designed to power the two-person Lynx suborbital space plane XCOR was building. The vehicle, which was designed to take off and land on a runway, was only partially completed before most work on it stopped last year.

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Walking on Coals: Bridenstine Dances Around Hot Climate Change Issues

The new NASA global data set combines historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature (shown here) and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Nominee Kinda Sorta Doesn’t Really
Walk Back Position on Global Warming

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Friday, the U.S. government released a long-in-the-making report on climate change that contained a stark assessment of what humans are doing to planet Earth.

“This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report states. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

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Trump Nominates Mike Griffin for Defense Post

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin

President Donald Trump has nominated former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to serve as principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Griffin, who led the space agency from 2005 to 2009, was most recently chairman and CEO of the Schafer Corporation, a provider of scientific, engineering, and technical services and products in the national security sector.

In his new position, Griffin will serve as the principal staff assistant and advisor to the secretary of Defense and deputy secretary of Defense for all matters concerning acquisition, technology, and logistics.

During his stint at NASA, Griffin established the architecture for space shuttle replacement and human return to the Moon and initiated the first development of commercial cargo delivery service to Earth orbit in the agency’s history.

He is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the AIAA Space Systems Medal, and the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal.

Dr. Griffin is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, the Catholic University of America, the University of Maryland, the University of Southern California, Loyola College; and George Washington University.

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Pence: National Space Council to Establish Users’ Advisory Group

Credit: The White House

On the eve of the National Space Council meeting on Thursday morning, Vice President Mike Pence has penned an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal outlining the council’s goals.

We will refocus America’s space program toward human exploration and discovery. That means launching American astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. It means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars.

We will renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth.

We will promote regulatory, technological, and educational reforms to expand opportunities for American citizens and ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of economic development in outer space. In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble.​

To achieve these goals, the National Space Council will look beyond the halls of government for insight and expertise. In the coming weeks, President Trump and I will assemble a Users’ Advisory Group partly composed of leaders from America’s burgeoning commercial space industry. Business is leading the way on space technology, and we intend to draw from the bottomless well of innovation to solve the challenges ahead.

Jim Bridenstine Explains Why He is Qualified to be NASA Administrator

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) says that his leadership efforts in Congress on space issues qualifies him to serve as NASA administrator.

“For three terms in Congress, have led comprehensive, bipartisan, space reforms with the objective of preserving America’s preeminence and global leadership in space,” Bridenstine stated in a notarized document submitted to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“These efforts have led me to a deep understanding of the complex challenges NASA will face bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision for both exploration and science,” he added. “Traditional and new space companies are both critical to accelerating America’s space renaissance.”

In the document, which queried Bridenstine on his views and qualifications for NASA’s top job, the congressman listed NASA’s top three challenges as:
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What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Imagine the following scenario: NASA’s Earth Science division gets its budget cut with key missions focused on climate change canceled.

The new NASA administrator then announces the division will be dismantled, with various programs divided among other federal departments, in order to better focus the space agency on exploration. The bulk of the programs end up at NOAA, which the NASA administrator says is a much more appropriate home for them.

NOAA, however, is already reeling from spending cuts. Struggling to perform its own forecasting duties on a reduced budget, the agency has little bandwidth to take on any additional responsibilities. And the funding allocated for the NASA programs that were just transferred over is woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand.

The result is a bureaucratic train wreck in which America’s Earth science and climate research programs gradually wither away due to mismanagement, neglect and lack of funding. The ability of the nation — and the world — to understand and address the changes the planet experiencing is greatly reduced. At some future date, another administration will have to rebuild a program in shambles that was once the envy of the world.

Sound far fetched? Think again. It could very well happen if the Trump Administration and the man it has nominated to lead NASA get what they want out of Congress.

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Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Backs Bridenstine Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

WASHINGTON, D.C.The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) welcomes the Trump Administration’s continuing commitment to human space exploration, space science, and the economic development of space with the nomination of U.S. Representative Jim Bridenstine for NASA Administrator.

“Together with the establishment of the National Space Council chaired by Vice President Pence, this step advances the framework for U.S. leadership in space,” said Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, President and CEO of the Coalition. “Rep. Bridenstine has been an active and vocal advocate for space on Capitol Hill. We look forward to working with NASA’s new leadership team to support NASA’s development of a deep space infrastructure for human spaceflight, beginning with the Space Launch System, Orion crew vehicle and Exploration Ground Systems. Other exciting developments include the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and Mars Insight in 2018, progress on future deep space exploration and science platforms such as Mars 2020, Europa Clipper and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope, and ongoing science, exploration, international cooperation and economic development enabled by the International Space Station, leading to the eventual extension of new ventures and technology into deep space.”

“The Coalition— representing thousands of Americans working in the space industry, including many small business suppliers and manufacturers across the country— stands ready to support the new NASA leadership team and looks forward to working together as we embark on this exciting new era of deep space science and human exploration.”

About the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration is a national organization of more than 70 space industry businesses and advocacy groups focused on ensuring the United States remains a leader in space, science and technology. Based in Washington D.C., the Coalition engages in outreach and education reinforcing the value and benefits of human space exploration and space science with the public and our nation’s leaders, building lasting support for a long-term, sustainable, strategic direction for our nation’s space program.

Bridenstine’s Climate Change Stance Could Adversely Impact Confirmation Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become the next NASA administrator has already run into trouble, with Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressing concerns over appointing a politician to lead an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and has been mostly free of the sharp partisan divisions that have led to gridlock in Congress in recent years.

Some media reports have suggested that Rubio is angry at Bridenstine’s attacks upon him when he ran for president, a charge the Florida senator denies. Bridenstine first backed Ted Cruz’s bid, then switched to Donald Trump after Cruz dropped out of the race.

Or it could be the conservative Oklahoma Republican’s floor speeches, which include one in which he claimed President Barack Obama “dishonesty, incompetence, vengefulness and lack of moral compass lead many to suggest that he is not fit to lead.” His opinion of Vice President Joe Biden was hardly better. “The only problem is that his vice president is equally unfit and even more embarrassing,” Bridenstine said.

Did I mention Bridenstine is a strong Trump supporter? Let that sink in for a moment.

Aside from the concerns about partisanship, there is one other issue that could cause Senators to vote against Bridenstine when his nomination is considered later this year: climate change, also known as global warming.

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President Trump Welcomes Home Record-breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson talks on the phone with President Donald Trump as she flew on a NASA plane to Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field in Houston Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (Credits: NASA/D. Huot)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer received a special welcome as they were flying home to Houston Sunday evening. President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Whitson and Fischer on a NASA plane following Whitson’s record-breaking mission to the International Space Station.

Whitson, Fischer, and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, landed back on Earth Saturday in Kazakhstan. She and Fischer flew to NASA Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field Sunday.

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And the New NASA Administrator is Probably….Wait for it….

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

This guy.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

That’s what a couple of websites (here and here) are reporting this evening, with the caveat that — this being “Trump world” — anything could happen between now and the formal announcement planned for September or perhaps earlier.

Surprised?

You shouldn’t be.

During his three terms Congress, Bridenstine has made himself an expert in space policy, with a particular focus on promoting commercial space. He’s also been campaigning for the job since Trump was elected (and probably before). Bridenstine will also be in need of a new job soon. He promised voters he would serve a maximum of six years in the House, which means he won’t be standing for re-election next November.

The Trump Administration has also settled on a deputy administrator. That guy’s name is…

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Trump Administration’s NASA Policy Slowly Emerges

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week was long on rhetoric and short on details, but a few themes and priorities have already emerged in the Trump Administration’s slowly evolving approach to the nation’s civilian space program.

NASA Will Lead Again

In a speech in which he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump, Pence used some variation of the word “lead” a total of 33 times (“leadership” 18 times, “leader(s)” eight times,  “lead”  six times and “leading” once).
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Trump Sets Dubious New Space Record on Independence Day

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

President Donald Trump has set a new record relating to NASA.

Some are skeptical of the White House’s soaring rhetoric because crucial leadership positions remain unfilled.

For instance, the US space agency set a dubious record on the Fourth of July: the longest span of time that a newly elected president has gone without naming a new NASA chief.

The previous record was a 164-day stretch in 1971 under President Richard Nixon.

NASA is currently headed by an “acting administrator” — engineer Robert Lightfoot, who took over when former astronaut Charles Bolden, an Obama appointee, stepped down.

Also empty is the chief of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology and Policy, once a key player in crafting NASA’s agenda.

Read the full story.

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Pence Promises Return to the Moon & Boots on Mars

Mike Pence

Vice President and newly minted Chairman of the revived National Space Council Mike Pence visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday where he gave a speech promising a return to the moon and boots on Mars.

When? How? What will it cost? And how are we going to pay for it?

Pence didn’t get into that level of granularity. In fact, he didn’t get into very many details at all during his address to KSC employees.

Pence’s speech consisted of a lot of platitudes delivered with attitude and lots of latitude as to what it all meant in practice.

If you watched it and were baffled, welcome to the club. That seems to be the consensus of the media coverage I’ve seen so far among reporters who cover space.

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Executive Order Reviving the National Space Council

President Donald Trump signs an executive order reviving the National Space Council. (Credit: The White House)

EXECUTIVE ORDER

REVIVING THE NATIONAL SPACE COUNCIL

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to provide a coordinated process for developing and monitoring the implementation of national space policy and strategy, it is hereby ordered as follows:
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