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Rocketdoc Notes – Week of January 17, 2021

What will Biden’s Space Program be like?

Like many of you I watched the Inauguration Wednesday. It is always impressive, and I liked the tone of Biden’s speech, especially about trying to bring us all together. That said, will a strong space program bring us together, or push us further apart? That’s the real question and right now I’m seeing mixed signals. Here are a couple of press releases, the first out of NASA, and the second out of the AIAA Daily Launch blog. Both are very appropriate.

Message from NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk and Senior White House Appointee Bhavya Lal

Status Report From: NASA HQ Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2021

“As we begin this next chapter for NASA, we want to thank Jim Bridenstine and Jim Morhard for their service and leadership of the agency through the many great successes and formidable challenges of the last few years.

We also could not be prouder of how every civil servant and contractor has stepped up to move the NASA mission forward while looking out for the health, safety, and well-being of the entire team. NASA represents the best of America, and the best of American values: hard work, determination, and ingenuity. And this agency has proven, time and again, that anything is possible when we come together, break down barriers, create opportunities, and imagine a new tomorrow.

We face unprecedented challenges in our country today with a public health crisis, economic challenges, and a reckoning with racial injustice and inequality. And all of us – as Americans and as public servants – are called to meet those challenges.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, combating climate change, and creating economic opportunity for all Americans is real – and we all have a role to play in turning that commitment into action. At NASA, we embrace diversity because we understand that different opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives create an enriching environment that fuels innovation and personal growth. Every difference of opinion, background, or perspective is an opportunity to learn and build relationships in the workplace that will make us stronger as an agency and as individuals. This is how we get through difficult times. It’s also how we achieve missions of unparalleled complexity and ambition that inspire the world.

As new members of the NASA leadership team join us and we prepare for an exciting future, we want everyone to know the following:

Your safety, dignity, and right to be seen, heard, and respected are paramount

Your contributions to the NASA mission are critical to our success

Your hard work has been and will continue to be key to helping us move beyond any challenges we face.

We have some initial appointments from the new administration: Alicia Brown has been named NASA’s Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs (OLIA), and Marc Etkind will be the Associate Administrator for Communications. Please join us in giving them a warm welcome to the NASA family. There will be other new faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate these developments with you.

We are excited about the opportunities that await us –the Perseverance Mars landing; the next Launch America mission; our focus on the study of our home planet; and returning American astronauts to the surface of the Moon, and then on to Mars. All of this, and so much more, will be accomplished with the incredible team of civil servants, contractors, and partners we call the NASA family.

Be safe and continue looking out for each other. Together, we can and will achieve great things.

Steve Jurczyk

Acting Administrator


Bhavya Lal

Senior White House Appointee”

Jurczyk was the Associate NASA Administrator and is clearly the acting administrator until a new NASA head can be approved. Bhavya Lal is a member of the Biden Space Transition Team and could be up for the Administrator’s position. There are many more important cabinet level jobs to be filled first, so we have to wait for an announcement.

As you can tell the above is a very political statement emphasizing gender equality, diversity, and climate change with a single sentence on space exploration. Hopefully, now that we have the required political statement out of the way, they can get to specifics on how the government is going to open up space to benefit the man on the street. Unfortunately, I vividly remember the Obama years when the Constellation Exploration Program was gutted, and NASA exploration drifted aimlessly for eight years while using Russian Soyuz to send American Astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). I fear the Biden Administration, like the Obama Administration, will rank space exploration much lower than infrastructure improvements and green climate initiatives and prioritize spending accordingly. Stay tuned to find out. The second statement from the AIAA Daily Launch Blog follows:

Outgoing NASA Administrator Bridenstine Gives Farewell Speech, Emphasizes Unity In Space Exploration

SPACE (1/20) reports that Jim Bridenstine, who stepped down as NASA Administrator on Wednesday, said, “What advice I could give to the next administrator, it is to find wherever there are divisions and eliminate them.” Bridenstine said, “When I was in the House of Representatives, Republicans were for going to the moon and Democrats were for going to Mars.” Bridenstine, however, argued that space exploration “should never be political,” and that “it should bring people together for science and discovery and exploration.”

This statement is interesting because it mentions the political separation in mission planning, we have experienced over the past 25 years. Yes, Republicans were for going to the moon, but on a scheduled program, while Democrats were for going to Mars, someday in the future, with funding TBD.

The bottom line here is that I fear NASA’s future is going to revisit the Obama years and all serious space advances are going to be driven by private companies. As it turns out private space companies are making striking advancements in reducing launch costs while NASA seems to be mired in the past with sub-par results on the Orion and SLS programs. Therefore, I am optimistic development of space is going to proceed with, or without active NASA participation. For the sake of all my friends at NASA I hope it is with NASA participation, but the initial results I see from the Biden Administration are not very positive.

Thanks for reading.

Dana Andrews

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