NASA’s interim administrator to retire in April

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NASA’s interim administrator, Robert Lightfoot, has announced that he plans to retire in April.

Lightfoot’s retirement leaves NASA without any leadership, as the Senate has shown no interest in confirming Trump’s candidate for the position, Congressmen Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma).

All 49 Democrats in the Senate are expected to vote against to Bridenstine’s confirmation, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is also reportedly also opposed, Space News reported. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) is not in Washington as he undergoes treatment for cancer, leaving Bridenstine short of the 50 votes needed for confirmation.

Bridenstine is not a perfect choice, and I have reservations about his commitment to commercial space, but the reasons for the Democratic opposition is, as far as I can tell, the same as all their other opposition to every other Trump or Republican proposal: pure spite. “We hate it because of YOU!”

The lack of a politically appointed administrator at NASA however is not necessarily a bad thing, considering that the important stuff happening right now is not at NASA but in the private sector. Having NASA adrift for awhile might actually work to weaken NASA’s pork projects, SLS and Orion, that are in direct competition with private space.



  • Edward

    The irony of not confirming an administrator for NASA is that Congress wants its pet launch rocket, but they seem unwilling to give it any definitive leadership. No wonder the large NASA projects are going so badly. The James Web Space Telescope cost is now eight times higher than the original budget, and is years behind its original schedule. The Space Launch System (SLS) is also far behind schedule and costing much more than necessary, and the schedule slips on SLS cause slowdowns and overruns on Orion.

    Bolden was a terrible leader for NASA, announcing early on that Obama had directed him to use NASA to inform Muslims how Islam had contributed to science: “One, [Obama] wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

    Not one of these directions was to explore space, improve US aeronautics, or advance US technology (space technology or otherwise). No wonder NASA was having cost and schedule problems. Its mission emphasis was turned around and confused. Unhelpful was the conflict between Obama and Congress on the Constellation Project, which Congress forced to become SLS but left it without a mission to guide its design and implementation.

    The extra resources being expended on these projects could have been better spent on other valuable projects, if only NASA leadership had been able to properly manage these projects. Although it is difficult to be sure, we can get an idea of what projects would have been funded by looking at various decadal surveys and seeing which recommended space projects did not get funded or those whose funding ended due to lack of available funds.

    Here is the first in a series of stories about how NASA is adrift. It is four years old, but I think it is still valid. I think someone here on BtB originally pointed out this series:

    Paul Spudis, in his book “The Value of the Moon,” wrote: “Regrettably, strategic confusion currently abounds in the American civil space program.

    Despite the recent re-instantiation of the National Space Council, there is still an abundance of strategic confusion in our civil space program.

    Lightfoot, when he took over NASA temporarily, stated that he did not want to set new directions for NASA, because he did not want to mess up NASA for whoever was next to take the reins.

    For a decade, Congress has squandered the talents, skills, and knowledge of NASA’s scientists, engineers, and technicians, and I see no end to it. Unfortunately, Congress and Obama already messed up NASA for the next administrator. We can only hope that the crybabies in Congress grow up and present NASA with a new administrator. Perhaps the National Space Council will help him straighten out NASA as he sets it on a new, more productive direction.

  • Edward: I have to disagree with a fundamental premise of your comment, that somehow NASA is required to get anything done in space, and that for that to happen we need only give NASA some clear direction.

    I have been hearing this for decades. It doesn’t work. NASA is a government agency, funded by Congress, to fulfill the political agendas of those elected officials, which almost never have anything to do with practical and intelligent goals. To get things done, we need to dump NASA, get rid of it, or at least, make it a minor player whose only job is to hire private companies for work it needs done.

  • Edward

    I agree that Congress uses NASA for their own political agendas, but that is how it ends up squandering these precious, irreplaceable resources. The National Aeronautics and Space Act, in 1958, gave objectives to NASA, but Obama directed Bolden to put alternate — political — priorities in place.

    NASA is supposed to be the most effective use of our science and engineering resources in space and aeronautics. Although this is a real trick for any government agency, parts of NASA, such as JPL, have done this nicely. We get value for our money, as JPL continues to perform excellent planetary science for reasonable cost.

    Commercial space came into existence because NASA — as funded by Congress — was not reacting to the needs of commercial companies and the desires of the American people. Americans grew weary of waiting for government to do what they wanted, so they began forming commercial companies to launch payloads, then to do Earth observation, and now they are working on space exploration. Planetary Resources hopes to eventually perform space mining in order to begin using space resources in new ways.

    Congress has largely failed to see space as a valid resource for improving life on Earth and has not done much of that kind of exploration. Fortunately, Congress allowed many commercial companies to perform these kinds of experiments on the ISS, to set up communication satellites, and recently to get into supplying weather data. This kind of commercial application allows NASA to readjust its efforts to explorations and developments that are beyond the capability or immediate interests of commercial companies. After all, one of the important objectives from the Act is: “The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.

    That objective seems to have been lost in the past decade.

    Just as the NACA was set up to help US commercial companies maintain a world leadership in aeronautics, NASA can help US commercial companies maintain a leadership in space.

    Before I hear from someone the claim that Apollo was political, let me remind everyone that Apollo also carried out much scientific research that could not be done easily by robot. When Apollo 15 found the Genesis Rock, that was the outcome that geologists on Earth were hoping for.

  • Andrew_W

    Edward: We get value for our money, as JPL continues to perform excellent planetary science for reasonable cost.

    Prove it.

  • Max

    Edward quoted,
    objectives from the Act is: “The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.”

    Oh how things have changed, it is ironic that Trump will make this comment yesterday to the Air Force…
    I know he was just joking but he thinks the militarism of space is a good idea. I’m sure Northrop Grumman agrees and will get a trillion dollar contract. (they state on their homepage they are going there anyway, why not let the government fund it?)
    The future of space is evolving past the original concepts. Z man has his finger on the pulse of the future, it is currently on the fulcrum of private control versus Government control. Private has the Innovation and the tenacity, government has the gun. It’s a matter of who has the money and the underline infrastructure to seize control during this fundamental phase of space travel. Get ready, another battle is about to begin…
    I have a feeling that the winner will be the highest bidder.

  • Edward


    Because of your tendency to have different definitions for words, it is difficult holding discussions with you. Before I can prove to anything to your satisfaction I will need your definitions for various words or phrases.

    Please define the following, in the context of the statement that you question:
    planetary science

    Further, it would be helpful if you were to clarify why you might think the statement is less than correct.

    In later paragraphs of the Newsweek article, Trump makes clear that he believes that his joke will be taken seriously by the fake news media. Your comment demonstrates that he predicted correctly, and that at least some people fell for it.

  • Andrew_W

    Edward you can find the definitions in a dictionary, the Oxford English dictionary would be acceptable, but I’m sure there are plenty of other good dictionaries you can find.

    In terms of explaining my skepticism of the claim you make in your sentence my position is simply that you cannot know if the US tax payer gets value for money simply because the tax payer has nothing to measure what he gets from JPL compared to what he might get were there to be a free and competitive market in existence. In other words: You make the claim that We get value for our money, as JPL continues to perform excellent planetary science for reasonable cost. when you do not have any measure by which to make such a definitive claim.

    If Air New Zealand is in the market for 10 250 – 350 passenger long range wide-body jet airliners they can judge which is the best value for money because there are competing suppliers in the market bidding against each other for Air New Zealand’s business, who is JPL competing against, is it a free and competitive market?

    This is always the problem with goods and services provided when there is not an open and competitive market place, it’s why government monopolies can provide “services” that cost so much when delivering so little and get away with it, the voters have nothing to measure the cost of the goods or service that they get against.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Edward you can find the definitions in a dictionary

    Duh. You, however and as I stated, have different definitions. These alternate definitions get all of us into arguments over the definitions, and it all becomes frustrating.

    An excellent example: you stated “the tax payer has nothing to measure what he gets from JPL compared to what he might get were there to be a free and competitive market in existence,” demonstrating that, for you, the meaning of the word ‘value’ is relative to government vs. commercial. If someone can do something with better efficiency, then only that someone gives value at reasonable cost. This means that your definition of the word ‘reasonable’ also has a different meaning to you. Apparently, you assume that my statement means efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness are at a maximum, not at a reasonable amount of value.

    Oh, I forgot. Timeliness was not part of your equation. It is part of mine, though. Oftentimes even commercial companies will pay more in order to get their own service/product into the market sooner rather than later. Timeliness has value to them.

    Thus, for you, no government supplied service could possibly be reasonable or have value unless there is a competing commercial provider for that service. I ponder what you must think of the military. I am truly sorry that you do not think that the planetary science data that JPL delivers to us now is excellent or worth the expenditure, relative to hypothetical future (untimely) commercially collected data.

    Indeed, the reason that there is so much enthusiasm about going to Mars — or even going back to the Moon — is due to data collected by NASA* and other countries’ government agencies. Without that data, commercial space companies would have an even harder time finding funding, so it seems to me that the value of the data is even greater than I was thinking when I made my comment.

    Then again, we could compare the data that is returned by other spacefaring nations’ space agencies. I think that JPL compares very favorably when compared with Russia/Soviet Union, Europe (ESA), and India (IRSO). JPL produces a lot of useful data for the cost expended, and the data has come early enough for commercial companies and private organizations to propose their own useful missions to Mars. However, intergovernmental competition is not a comparison that you will accept as being relevant, so the futility of discussion with you rears its ugly head once again.

    And once again, your effort at trolling has paid off. You got me to react to yet another of your ludicrous comments.

    * Lunar Prospector is the probe that found hydrogen at the lunar poles. It started as a commercial mission, but lack of funding caused the principal investigator, Dr. Alan Binder, to ask NASA to complete the mission. Ironically, it was that mission, failed as a commercial mission, that initially generated so much interest in going back to the Moon commercially, venture capitalist interest in space, and the likelihood of successful commercial operations in CisLunar space. Remember ULA’s enthusiastic video from two years ago? (7 minutes “ULA CisLunar 1000”)

    There is similar interest in putting humanity on Mars. SpaceX and the Planetary Society, among others, have this interest.

    The timeliness of being able to realistically propose this kind of future now, rather than decades from now, is among the things that I consider to be valuable.

  • Andrew_W

    Edward, as usual you miss my point, which is actually very simple. I’m not claiming that there needs to be a commercial operation to compare with for you to get value, I’m saying that there needs to be an alternative source of a product or service to compare with for you or anyone else to determine if you’re getting value. Otherwise there’s no way to judge whether or not what you’re getting is reasonable value.

    So your above comment is from start to end irrelevant to the case I’m making.

  • Edward

    So your above comment is from start to end irrelevant to the case I’m making.

    Except for the alternative source of [the] product or service to compare with” that I provided. Once again, you did not pay attention to what I wrote, because you disagree with me, making my comments not important enough to you to bother with any reading comprehension.

    Your original case was a simple demand for proof, which is no case at all. The second case that you made is that value is unobtainable without a competition (which you failed to provide evidence for that case), and which I disproved with my reply. Your second case diverges from the question at hand, as it deviates from the value of JPL’s data to some bizarre definition of the word ‘value.’

    Now you make a case that your definition has changed. This is why I asked for your definitions in the first place. But no. You still could not define the words that you use. Are you really that obtuse?

    Since you have difficulty with reading comprehension, please let me suggest the instance of a monopoly, which some of your utility providers may be. Do you believe that you have no idea whether you receive value from them? Do you believe that they are not reasonable in their cost? Please consider these as rhetorical questions, as you obviously believe that you receive value from your sole-source utilities and that you are paying a reasonable price; otherwise you would not be buying those goods or services. I don’t get cable, because I do not think that the service is worth the price, but other people do, because they think that it is worth the price.

    As I noted before, you are using different definitions for the words that you use. Your definitions differ from the dictionary definitions, and they change as the discussion progresses.

    To help clarify my previous reply, the one that you had comprehension issues with, the dictionary defines value as: “the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.” In my previous reply, I explained why I believe that the data JPL provides us is worth at least as much as other things we could have received for that expenditure: to summarize in a way you may comprehend, if we did not have JPL’s data, our commercial space companies would be decades farther behind in their aspirations for space commerce and in their ability to raise capital to achieve those aspirations.

    As I noted, “I consider [these] to be valuable.” You clearly do not, for which you have failed to demonstrate why you do not. That is your problem, not mine, and I think that you are being adversarial just to get a reply, which is my problem.

    And once again, your effort at trolling has paid off. You got me to react to yet another of your ludicrous comments.

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