NASA Statement on Bridenstine Nomination to Become Administrator

Robert Lightfoot

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on Friday’s announcement of the intended nomination by President Donald Trump of U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine to serve as the 13th NASA administrator:

“I am pleased to have Rep. Bridenstine nominated to lead our team. Of course, the nomination must go through the Senate confirmation process, but I look forward to ensuring a smooth transition and sharing the great work the NASA team is doing.

“I look forward to working with a new leadership team, and the administration, on NASA’s ongoing mission of exploration and discovery. Our history is amazing, and our future is even brighter, as we continue to build on this nation’s incredible global leadership in human exploration, science, aeronautics and technology.”

Bridenstine, a pilot in the U.S. Navy Reserve and former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2012 to represent Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. He currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

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.

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NASA Statement on Revival of National Space Council

Robert Lightfoot

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot about Friday’s Executive Order creating the National Space Council:

“I am pleased that President Trump has signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council. The council existed previously from 1989-1993, and a version of it also existed as the National Aeronautics and Space Council from 1958-1973. As such, the council has guided NASA from our earliest days and can help us achieve the many ambitious milestones we are striving for today.

“This high-level group advises the president and comprises the leaders of government agencies with a stake in space, including the NASA administrator, the Secretaries of State, Commerce, Defense, and others, and will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. It will help ensure that all aspects of the nation’s space power — national security, commerce, international relations, exploration, and science, are coordinated and aligned to best serve the American people. A Users’ Advisory Group also will be convened so that the interests of industries and other non-federal entities are represented.

“The establishment of the council is another demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole.”

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NASA Will Not Fly Crew on First SLS/Orion Mission

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials announced on Friday the first combined flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be conducted without a crew as originally planned. They also said the flight test will slip from 2018 to 2019.

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NASA Acting Administrator Statement on Proposed Budget

Robert Lightfoot

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 agency budget proposal:

“The President mentioned in his speech to both houses of Congress that, ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ NASA is already working toward that goal, and we look forward to exciting achievements that this budget will help us reach.

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New SpaceX Falcon 9 Problems: Cracks in Turbopump Turbine Blades

Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

There have been more problems uncovered with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster.

Congressional investigators are raising new safety concerns about Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s plans for future manned launches, citing persistent cracking of vital propulsion-system components, according to government and industry officials familiar with the details.

The Government Accountability Office’s preliminary findings reveal a pattern of problems with turbine blades that pump fuel into rocket engines, these officials said. The final GAO report, scheduled to be released in coming weeks, is slated to be the first public identification of one of the most serious defects affecting Falcon 9 rockets.

The crack-prone parts are considered a potentially major threat to rocket safety, the industry officials said, and may require redesign of what are commonly called the Falcon 9’s turbopumps. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they said, has warned SpaceX that such cracks pose an unacceptable risk for manned flights….

Industry officials have known about problems with cracked blades on Falcon 9 versions for many months or even years. But cracks continued to be found during tests as recently as September 2016, Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, confirmed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week….

Mr. Lightfoot said “we’re talking to [SpaceX] about turbo machinery,” adding that he thinks “we know how to fix them.” In the interview, Mr. Lightfoot said he didn’t know if the solution would require a potentially time-consuming switch to bigger turbopumps.

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Garver’s Departure Leaves NewSpace Without its Highest Ranking Advocate

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver talks during a press conference with Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft in the background on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft is under development with support from NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program to provide crew transportation to and from low Earth orbit. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver talks during a press conference with Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft in the background on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is under development with support from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program to provide crew transportation to and from low Earth orbit. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Aviation Week takes a closer look at Deputy Administrator Lori Garver’s impending Sept. 6 departure from NASA. Frank Morring, Jr. notes that Garver has been the major driver behind the agency’s controversial push for commercial space activities as well as the plan to capture an asteroid and have astronauts visit it. He also notes the following:

Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s No. 3 manager and top-ranking civil servant, is a likely possibility to fill Garver’s post on an acting basis until the White House can nominate another political appointee….

Garver’s departure will come on the heels of Elizabeth Robinson, the agency’s chief financial officer, who has been named under secretary of energy. Robinson and Garver were staunch allies in the often-heated management policy debates that pitted them against more traditional NASA managers, including Administrator Charles Bolden.

The announcement of Garver’s departure has already caused consternation among her supporters in the NewSpace community, who are losing their highest ranked advocate at the space agency at a critical time when Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over the space agency’s funding and direction.

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