NASA may finally be close to having some clarity about its direction during the Trump administration. On Tuesday, NASA Watch reported that the president will appoint US Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) as chairman and Aerojet Rocketdyne Vice President John Schumacher as vice chairman. Both men were rumored to be nominated for these posts in recent weeks, but there have been no official confirmations yet.
Two sources familiar with the Washington, DC, political scene confirmed the choices to Ars, but one of them offered a caveat. “I’ve heard the same from multiple sources, but this is Trump’s world,” said a DC source.
A formal announcement is in the works for September, but a date and location have not been set. “To the best of my knowledge, there have been no White House announcements on this topic at this time,” NASA’s associate administrator for communications, Jen Rae Wang, told Ars on Tuesday evening.
John Logsdon, noted field historian and author of several books, incl After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the United States Space Program, say you have heard the same names. “The selection of Jim Bridenstine and John Schumacher as the top two NASA officials is a surprising and very powerful move,” Logsdon told Ars, via email. “Bridenstine, for several years, has had an idea of what is needed for, as he suggests, an ‘American Space Renaissance’ and has been testing his ideas with various audiences. Schumacher is a veteran of the Washington space area, with the years of both senior NASA and space industry executive experience. Together, they can bring both new ideas and an understanding of politics and policy reality to the space industry.”
Since President Obama left office in January, a civil servant named Robert Lightfoot has been guiding the agency through the transition. Lightfoot is among the candidates for both positions, and it is not clear whether he will be on NASA. By all accounts, Lightfoot has done a good job keeping NASA’s programs running through the last eight months. His most critical decision came in June, when Lightfoot decided against putting a crew on the daughter launch of the Space Launch System (SLS).
An airman in the US Navy Reserve, Bridenstine is serving his third term as US Ambassador to Oklahoma. From the start of his term in Congress, Bridenstine has shown interest in civil, commercial, and military space policy. Conservative has previously outlined broad goals to modernize the US airline industry with its own American Space Enterprise Act.
He is a great creative person and is seen as a potential changer. Bridenstine, 42, is championed by many business space companies because he is open to increased privatization of the U.S. civilian and military services. “Civil and defense space companies must not compete with the private sector, but enable domestic, commercial launch, and space capabilities,” he said. tell.
The Oklahoma Legislature has also publicly advocated for a manned return to the Moon before NASA begins a mission to Mars. In the words and in a blog post On his congressional website, Bridenstine has called opening the Moon for commercial use the “Sputnik era” for this generation.
“From the discovery of water ice on the Moon until today, America’s mission should be a permanent place of rovers and machines in the poles with short-term missions for science and maintenance,” Bridenstine wrote. “The purpose of such an exit should be to use the resources and power of the Moon to collect charges and improve the capabilities of the cis-lunar space.”
Bridenstine checks several boxes for the Trump administration and space: a conservative Trump supporter, someone who will prioritize lunar exploration, rejects the commercialization of space, and is ready to push NASA back to human exploration despite some actions, such as Earth science. Some ardent supporters of NASA’s big government research programs—the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft—have fired at Bridenstine since January because of his pro-commercialization views. However, the possible appointment of the deputy superintendent, Schumacher, may alleviate some of those concerns.
With more than three years of experience in the military, civil, and commercial fields, Schumacher understands how Washington, DC, works. He also has previous NASA experience, serving as chief of staff to former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe from 2003 to 2005 and as NASA’s Executive Director for External Relations from 1994 to 2003.
Schumacher has worked at Aerojet Rocketdyne for the past 11 years, joining Aerojet in 2006 as vice president of the company’s Washington, DC, operations. Aerojet is one of the prime contractors on the SLS rocket. In 2015, the engine-builder took it $1.16 billion contract from NASA to resume production of the RS-25 engine to power the first stage of the SLS rocket.
In addition to showing the administration’s support for traditional aerospace contractors, Ars understands that Schumacher is seen as someone with the political connections and experience to manage NASA and push his agenda forward in Congress.
So what does this mean, if true? He suggests that Vice President Mike Pence and the Space Council will seek to innovate with NASA moving forward. For example, it seems that the space agency will, in the next 12 to 18 months, modify its research plans to include studying the surface of the moon for ice deposits and the ease in which they can be recovered. Human missions to the Moon are also likely to be planned for the 2020s.
Congress has maintained strong support for the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft, and the White House seems willing to go with both, at least for now. (The space commission’s new executive secretary, Scott Pace, favors such an approach.) At the same time, Bridenstine-led NASA will likely continue to find innovative ways to increase business partnerships, such as offering opportunities for traditional aerospace contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and space companies. new ones, like SpaceX and Blue Initiative, to send cargo to the Moon and build astronauts for that purpose.
The ever-growing traditional space versus the commercial space will be one of the most interesting areas to watch under the new leadership. The decision by Bridenstine and Schumacher indicates that Pence has not made a full decision yet on how much he can trade NASA beyond the existing commercial crew and cargo programs.
Planetary science also seems to be protected under the possible control of NASA, given the strong support in Congress such missions enjoy. Climate science, of course, has come under siege in other federal agencies, and will likely face similar funding cuts under Bridenstine’s leadership.