Congressmen Urge Senators to Confirm Bridenstine as NASA Administrator

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

A group of 61 House members has sent a letter to the Senate urging the body to approve the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as the next administrator of NASA.

“As the Congressman from the 1st District of Oklahoma, Jim has been an active member of the House Space Subcommittee, distinguishing himself as one of the most engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable members of the Subcommittee,” the letter states. “In 2015, SpaceNews named him one of “five space leaders in the world making a difference in space.” He authored several provisions in the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act and co-authored the bipartisan American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act.”


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.


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.


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.


A Closer Look at National Space Council User’s Advisory Group Nominees

So, I finally had a chance to go through folks that Vice President Mike Pence nominated to serve on the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.

Below is my attempt to break down the 29 nominees by category. It’s far from perfect because several of them could easily be listed under multiple categories. But, here’s my best shot at it.


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.

Report: Nield Departure from FAA Linked to Space Deregulation Push

FAA AST’s George Nield

The Wall Street Journal reports that George Nield’s decision to retire as head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) at the end of March is related to dissatisfaction over the pace of deregulating space activities.

But Mr. Nield’s leaving, according to industry and government officials, was prompted at least partly by White House and cabinet-level criticism that his initiatives to ease licensing procedures for rocket launches are proceeding too slowly. Members of the White House Space Council, a senior policy-making group, and the Transportation Department’s deputy secretary have expressed displeasure about the pace of change, these officials said.

The retirement, which was a surprise to some industry officials, also comes in the face of escalating pressure by budding commercial-space ventures to streamline federal rules, cutting the time and expense of obtaining launch licenses and approvals to operate spacecraft in orbit and beyond.

Mr. Nield’s decision could end up accelerating moves by top FAA officials, along with other parts of President Donald Trump’s administration, to ease or roll back regulations covering everything from earth-observation satellites to lunar landers to eventually mining minerals on asteroids.

Last week, the White House policy group chose the Commerce Department to serve as the main catalyst to promote U.S. commercial space ventures, effectively taking that role away from the FAA. During internal administration debates leading up to that public meeting, FAA critics pushed to strip the agency of authority over launch licensing, according to two people familiar with the details.

Mr. Nield’s office, which ultimately answers to the Transportation secretary, retained that responsibility but ended up with overall reduced stature.

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.”


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.


Wilbur Ross Talks Deregulation, “Hundreds of Feet of Solid Ice” on Moon

The interview with Ross starts out well enough, with the Commerce secretary talking about simplifying government regulations to spur commercial space developing. Then it veers off into lunar geology, which the secretary appears to have a far lesser grasp of. Vanity Fair did a bit of fact checking on his claim.

Ross said that the White House hopes to “turn the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space,” which it will do by using “the dark surfaces that you see when you look up at the moon, [which] are actually hundreds of feet of solid ice”; “break[ing] the ice down into hydrogen and oxygen,” and “us[ing] those as the fuel propellant.” The only problem? According to Dr. Kevin Peter Hickerson, nuclear physicist and Surely You’re Joking host, Ross is ostensibly talking out of his ass.

“Hundreds of feet of solid ice? That’s not even remotely true,” Hickerson told me, noting that the patches Ross referred to are actually ancient lava flows. “Yes, there is water on the moon, but it’s not pure ice, it’s about 0.1 percent of the mass and locked up in rock.” He added that, while there is ice on the moon’s poles, “and we can possibly extract water and make fuel from that . . . it’s not the cost-effective venture he’s suggesting.” Perhaps, Hickerson noted, Ross was referring to the “sci-fi fuel of the future” called Helium-3 that does exist on the moon, but that scientists haven’t figured out how to use yet. “Maybe someone mentioned that to [Ross] and he got confused,” Hickerson posited.

Mike Pence to Lead National Space Council Meeting on Wednesday

Mike Pence

WASHINGTON, DC (White House PR) — On Tuesday, February 20, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, he will tour the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch facilities and participate in a commercial spaceflight federal reception.

On Wednesday, February 21, Vice President Pence will lead the second meeting of the National Space Council at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “Moon, Mars, and  Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier,” will include testimonials from leaders in the civil, commercial and national security sectors about the importance of the United States’ space enterprise. The Vice President will conclude his visit with a tour of the Kennedy Space Center.

UPDATE: NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the meeting beginning at 10 a.m. EST.

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.”

Trump Budget Proposal Cuts NASA Earth Science Missions, Education & WFIRST Program

Earth as seen from the DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

Below are excerpts from a White House budget document. As it did with the FY 2018 budget plan, the Trump Administration once again proposes to close NASA’s Office of Education and to cut the same five Earth Science missions. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program would also be canceled.

All totaled, the cuts would be a reduction of $338 million from what was spent on these programs in FY 2017. Congress and the president have not yet settled on final budget figures for FY 2018, which began last Oct. 1.


Trump Doesn’t Mention Space in State of the Union Address

Bill Nye (Credit: Montclair Film Festival)

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) had high hopes as he attended Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address on Tuesday as the guest of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

“Historically, the Space Program has brought Americans together, and during his address, I hope to hear the President’s plans to continue exploring the space frontier,” he tweeted.

It was not to be. The president said not a word about space exploration during the lengthy speech. The closest he got to talking about anything remotely scientific was to declare he had ended the war on “beautiful clean coal,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.

No, I’m not kidding. He really did say that. Trump might even believe it. Or maybe he just doesn’t care.

Will Nye’s presence at the speech help convince skeptical Senators to approve his nomination to run NASA? Will it seriously hurt Nye’s reputation? Will it help The Planetary Society have a voice in the emerging space policy to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit?

Time will tell.

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.