Senate Confirms Morhard as NASA Deputy Administrator

The Senate has confirmed James Morhard as NASA deputy administrator on Friday. Morhard had been serving as the Senate deputy sergeant at arms.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine issued the following statement about the confirmation:

“Congratulations to Jim Morhard! He was confirmed as the 14th Deputy Administrator of NASA on Thursday, Oct. 11.

“He joins our amazing agency at a crucial time in history. NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and I look forward to working with him as we look towards NASA’s next 60 years. His legislative and managerial talents will serve NASA well as we accomplish stunning achievements.” 

FAA Bill Would Boost Commercial Space Spending

The budget of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) would more than triple over the next five years according to a re-authorization bill hammered out by House and Senate negotiators.

FAA AST’s current budget of $22.6 million would increase as follows:

  • FY 2019: $33,038,000
  • FY 2020: $43,500,000
  • FY 2021: $54,970,000
  • FY 2022: $64,449,000
  • FY 2023: $75,938,000.

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Senate Commerce Committee Approve Deputy NASA Administrator, OSTP Director Nominations

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved the nominations of Jim Morhard to be deputy administrator of NASA and Kelvin Droegemeier to head up the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The voice votes were conducted with no dissents. The nominations now go to the full Senate for a vote.

Morhard, 62, currently serves as the Senate deputy sergeant at arms.

Droegemeier, 60, is a respected meteorologist who is vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma.

Nominations Hearing Set for NASA Deputy Administrator, OSTP Director

Nominations Hearing

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing at 10: 15 a.m. on Thursday, August 23, 2018, to consider three presidential nominees.

Completed nomination questionnaires are available at www.commerce.senate.gov/nominations

Witnesses:

  • Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, of Oklahoma, to be the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy [Questionaire]
  • Mr. James “Jim” Morhard, of Virginia, to be Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [Questionaire]
  • Mr. Joel Szabat, of Maryland, to be Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation [Questionaire]

*Witness list subject to change.

Hearing Details:

Thursday, August 23, 2018
10: 15 a.m.
Full Committee

This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Battle Brews Over Filling NASA Deputy Administrator Spot

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Quartz reports there’s a battle brewing over who will be NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s deputy. The position of deputy administrator must be nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is a former lawmaker, and he says he wants a former astronaut, Dr. Janet Kavandi, as his deputy. But Donald Trump, who makes the final decision, is leaning toward a man with no experience in space technology.

Five sources with knowledge of the deliberations tell Quartz that the White House is seriously considering James Morhard, a veteran senate aide…

Kavandi, 58, joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1994. She had previously been an engineer at Boeing, and earned a P.h.D in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle. She spent 33 days in space as an astronaut on three different space shuttle missions, then became the lead astronaut supervising work on the International Space Station and the deputy head of the astronaut office. In 2016, she became the director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, which includes a huge vacuum chamber where SpaceX’s crew vehicle, the Dragon space capsule, is currently undergoing tests.

In his current job, Morhard, 61, is responsible for technology and administration in the offices of 100 senators and 88 committees and subcommittees. Starting off as an accountant at the Pentagon, he began his career as a legislative staffer in 1983, earning an MBA and a law degree along the way.

He rose to become the powerful chief of staff of the Appropriations Committee under the late senator Ted Stevens, and forged close ties with Republican senators. Morhard was a passenger, along with former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, in a 2010 plane crash that killed Stevens and four others.

Bridenstine Squeaks in as NASA Administrator in Party-Line Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to serve as the next NASA Administrator was narrowly approved by the U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon.

The part-line vote was 50-49, with all Republicans voting yes and all the Democrats opposed. Sen. John McCain, who is absent undergoing cancer treatments, did not vote.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had raised concerns about confirming a politician to run an agency with broad bipartisan support, voted to support the nomination.

Democrats opposed the nomination for several reasons, including Bridenstine’s previous claims that global warming is not occurring. He has since modified his views.

Bridenstine Narrowly Survives Vote to Vote on His Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The Senate has scheduled a vote on the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to become the next NASA Administrator on Thursday at 1:45 p.m. EDT.

Tomorrow’s showdown comes after a procedural vote to end debate on Wednesday that showed how sharply divided the Senate is about Bridenstine’s nomination. The measure passed 50-48, with all Republicans voting in the affirmative and all Democrats voting against it.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) initially voted against the nomination, resulting in a 49-49 tie. However, he later switched his vote to the affirmative. Vice President Mike Pence could have broken the tie, but he was not in the capital on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had previously questioned Bridenstine’s nomination. However, he voted to end debate.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) did not vote on Wednesday. McCain is undergoing cancer treatment; Duckworth gave birth to a daughter last week.

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.

Senate to Vote on Bridenstine’s Nomination to Lead NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed a motion to bring the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to become the next administrator of NASA to a vote on the Senate floor.

News of the cloture motion was tweeted by Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) on Monday. The account is operated by the Senate Republican Cloakroom staff.

Bridenstine was nominated for the position by President Donald Trump in September. The Senate Commerce Committee approved by a narrow party-line vote, with all the Democratic members voting against it.

Democrats have said that Bridenstine lacks the requisite scientific and technical background to lead the nation’s space agency. They have also questioned his past statements that global warming was not occurring. NASA spends $1.9 million on Earth science programs.

The vote on Bridenstine could be very close. It is believed that all 49 Democrats will vote against it. That would leave a narrow margin of 51 Republicans to vote for Bridenstine.

However, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has questioned  the wisdom of appointing a partisan politician to run an agency that has broad bipartisan support.

Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie. However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been absent from the Senate undergoing cancer treatments.

Senate Approves NASA CFO

Jeffrey DeWit (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

The nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to run NASA might still be in limbo, but the Senate did accomplish something involving the space agency: confirming Jeffrey DeWit to serve as the chief financial officer (CFO).

“It is encouraging to see more members of the agency’s leadership team being named,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement. “Jeff’s solid financial background will be a tremendous addition as we continue to advance our nation’s aeronautic and exploration initiatives.”

DeWit formerly 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.

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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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Opposition to Nye’s State of the Union Attendance Grows

Bill Nye (Credit: Montclair Film Festival)

The criticism of the decision by The Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) to attend Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address tonight at the invitation of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has grown to include a petition and an opinion piece in a prominent scientific publication.

An online petition urging Nye to cancel his plans started by ClimateHawkVote had garnered 35,790 signatures, more the 35,000 it was seeking. The petition reads:

President Donald Trump is a bigoted climate denier. So is Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Trump’s embattled nominee for NASA Administrator. So why is Bill Nye “very pleased” to be Bridenstine’s guest at Trump’s first State of the Union address?

Bill, please be the Science Guy, not the Bigoted Climate Denial Guy. Cancel your plans to attend Trump’s State of the Union as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest.

An opinion piece in Scientific American by the organization 500 Women Scientists disagrees with Nye’s claim that he is not endorsing Bridenstine, the Trump Administration or their science policies by attending the annual address.

But by attending the SOTU as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest, Nye has tacitly endorsed those very policies, and put his own personal brand over the interests of the scientific community at large. Rep. Bridenstine is a controversial nominee who refuses to state that climate change is driven by human activity, and even introduced legislation to remove Earth sciences from NASA’s scientific mission. Further, he’s worked to undermine civil rights, including pushing for crackdowns on immigrants, a ban on gay marriage, and abolishing the Department of Education….

The true shame is that Bill Nye remains the popular face of science because he keeps himself in the public eye. To be sure, increasing the visibility of scientists in the popular media is important to strengthening public support for science, but Nye’s TV persona has perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats—a stereotype that does not comport with our lived experience as women in STEM. And he continues to wield his power recklessly, even after his recent endeavors in debate and politics have backfired spectacularly.

In 2014, he attempted to debate creationist Ken Ham—against the judgment of evolution experts—which only served to allow Ham to raise the funds needed to build an evangelical theme park that spreads misinformation about human evolution. Similarly, Nye repeatedly agreed to televised debates with non-scientist climate deniers, contributing to the false perception that researchers still disagree about basic climate science. And when Bill Nye went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to “debate” climate change in 2017, his appearance was used to spread misinformation to Fox viewers and fundraise for anti-climate initiatives.

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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