Most of you are aware that Joe Biden will become our 46th President on January 20th and his minions are preparing to set our new space policies. As president-elect Joe Biden prepares to staff his White House, politicians and pundits are speculating about what the incoming administration’s staffing decisions mean about its agenda. For us it is worthwhile to explore what a Biden Administration portends for one of the unambiguous successes of Trump’s presidency: outer-space policy. The members of the Biden-Harris Transition Team for NASA have been published and is shown in figure 1 below.
Figure 1 – Biden – Harris Transition Team for NASA
In previous transition teams for the Obama and Trump Administrations I knew several members of the team either personally or professionally. That is not the case here, but when I searched this group on the internet, I found out they have some interesting qualifications. A brief description of each team member follows:
Dr. Ellen Renee Stofan, Team Lead (born February 24, 1961) is the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. She is the first female Director of the museum and began her tenure in April 2018. Stofan is the former Chief Scientist of NASA and served as principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's science programs, planning and investments. She resigned from NASA in December 2016. Previously, she served as vice president of Proxemy Research in Laytonsville, Maryland, and as an honorary professor in the Earth sciences department at the University College London.
Dr. Waleed Abdalati held the position of NASA Chief Scientist from 3 January 2011 through December 2012. Dr. Abdalati was named to this position on 13 December 2010 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He previously served NASA as Head of Cryospheric Sciences at Goddard Space Flight Center between January 2004 and June 2008.
Dr. Jedidah C. Isler is an American Astrophysicist and educator and an active advocate for diversity in STEM. She conducts research on blazars (hyperactive supermassive black holes and examines the jet streams emanating from them. She is currently an Assistant professor of Astrophysics at Dartmouth College. She completed a PhD in Astrophysics at Yale in 2014, becoming the first African American woman to do so.
Dr. Bhavya Lal led strategy, technology assessment, and policy studies and analyses at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Space Council, and Federal space-oriented organizations including NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community. She has applied her expertise in engineering systems and innovation theory and practice to topics in space, with recent projects on commercial activities in low-Earth orbit and deep space, on-orbit servicing assembly and manufacturing, small satellites, human exploration, space nuclear power, space exploration and space science. Dr. Lal is an active member of the space technology and policy community, having chaired, co-chaired or served on five high-impact National Academy of Science (NAS) committees. She is serving a second term on the NOAA Federal Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) and is an External Council Member of the NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. She co-founded and is co-chair of the policy track of the American Nuclear Society’s annual conference on nuclear and emerging technologies in space (NETS) and co-organizes a seminar series on space history and policy with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. For her many contributions to the space sector, she was nominated and selected to be a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics.
Col. Pamela Anne Melroy (born September 17, 1961) is a retired USAF officer and a former NASA Astronaut. She served as pilot on Space Shuttle missions STS-92 and STS-112 and commanded mission STS-120 before leaving the agency in August 2009. After serving as Deputy Program Manager, Space Exploration Initiatives with Lockheed Martin, Melroy joined the FAA in 2011, where she was a senior technical advisor and director of field operations for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. In 2013, she left the FAA and joined DARPA as Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office. She left the agency in February 2017.
Michigan ACLU Executive Director Dave Noble has been on the frontlines fighting for peoples’ rights for nearly two decades. Dave has experience building and leading national social justice non-profits and political organizations and affecting change from inside and outside government. For the past two years, he has been consulting with national progressive groups on strategic planning, coalition building, communications, electoral engagement, and leadership development. Prior to this work, Dave spent eight years in the Obama Administration. He was the Deputy Director and Acting Director of the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), where among other responsibilities he oversaw teams building pipelines of diverse candidates for political appointments and teams creating leadership development programming for all 3500 administration appointees.
Dr. Shannon Gabrielle Valley is an American climate scientist and policy advisor. She is based at Georgia Tech, where she studies the climate history of planet Earth. During the Obama administration She worked as a liaison between the White House and NASA Headquarters. She spent five of those years working between scientists at NASA and the United States Congress. She enjoyed meeting the scientists but became frustrated that she was not doing her own research, so she joined Georgia Tech as a graduate student. In 2020 Valley was appointed to the Biden-Harris NASA transition team.
David Weaver is Director of Communications at the Air Line Pilots Association in Washington D.C.
My observations are that this group is quite diverse, not necessarily a bad thing, but well qualified for the most part. The message I am hearing from the rocket scientist’s underground is that the next NASA administrator may be a woman; Dr. Ellen Stofan and Col. Pamela Ann Melroy are certainly well qualified, and that we should not expect a large change in NASA’s direction. I would expect a greater emphasis on space science relative to climate change and a slow-down in the Artemis Moon Program to better match the funding Congress has provided. This would slide the first woman on the moon until 2026 or 2027. A schedule that matches funding is a good thing and should not significantly change the overall plan. It does open up the possibility that a private company, or companies, could beat NASA back to the moon or on the Mars. That would be a delightful result, but I understand the pitfalls all to well to give that much credence. Stay tuned and cheer for all sides.
The bottom line is that I am hearing that the Biden-Harris Space Program will be more or less a continuation of the current NASA program with some changes in emphasis. That is a good thing, and it could have been a lot worse. We have a month to go before the Biden-Harris team takes office so expect some surprises.
Thanks for reading.