Trump Adds Commercial Space Advocate to NASA Transition Team

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.

Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space.  He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.

The Journal story says that commercial space is being pushed by Trump adviser Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is an investor in SpaceX. Two other Trump advisors, former Republican Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker, are also promoting commercial space.

The push appears to be an effort to balance out a team that appeared skewed toward more traditional NASA programs. The team is led by Christopher Shank, a close ally of former (and maybe future) NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, the man who gave us the heavy lift Ares V rocket that evolved in the expensive Space Launch System (SLS). It also includes Steve Cook, who managed the Ares program.

The SLS program, which is run by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala,, supports several of NASA’s more traditional contractors such as Boeing. Media reports say that the composition of the NASA landing team was influenced by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Trump’s choice for Attorney General.

Commercial space advocates have criticized SLS and the Orion spacecraft it will launch as excessively expensive. They would prefer NASA use rockets such as the Falcon Heavy  launcher being developed by Musk’s SpaceX and the New Glenn booster planned by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Trump has appointed Musk as a member of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum. The Journal also reports that Trump and Musk had a private chat after the president elect had a meeting with Silicon Valley executives last week in New York.

It’s not clear what the president elect thinks about space. He was all over the map during the campaign. He once declared NASA to be a disaster, then a week later praised the space agency’s brilliance. He also expressed a preference for filling the nation’s pot holes rather than sending astronauts to Mars.

The only thing that seems relatively clear is the desire to cut the NASA Earth Science program and transfer responsibility for climate research to NOAA.  Shank formerly worked for Rep. Lamar Smith, who is chairman of the House Science Committee and a global warming denier.