NASA Administrator Bridenstine? His name’s in the mix for Trump’s space team

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a member of Congress active on a wide range of space issues, is being considered for key posts in the Trump administration, including NASA administrator.

Sources familiar with the transition planning for the Trump administration say that Bridenstine is being considered for both the NASA administrator post as well as Secretary of the Air Force. Bridenstine, in addition to being a member of Congress, serves in the Oklahoma Air National Guard after previously being a pilot in the U.S. Navy.

Bridenstine has been active on space issues since first being elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, serving on the House Science Committee and House Armed Services Committee. Those posts have given him a voice on both civil and national security space policy issues.

He is best known for the introduction in April of the American Space Renaissance Act, a comprehensive space policy bill that covered topics in national security, civil and commercial space. The bill was designed to provide what he called a “holistic” approach to space policy, rather that treating those topics separately.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring a lot of elements together and make sure that in the end, the technologies being advanced are relevant to all the different enterprises that exist,” he said in a SpaceNews interview prior to the introduction of the act.

The bill has not advanced in Congress since its introduction, but Bridenstine said from the beginning he did not expect the legislation to pass as a standalone bill. “This bill will serve as a repository for the best space reform ideas,” he said in a speech at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in April. “Many of its policies can be inserted into other bills that will pass.”

In a Nov. 2 speech at a meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group in Columbia, Maryland, Bridenstine endorsed exploration of the moon by NASA, as well as regulatory changes to make it easier for commercial ventures to mount their own missions. He has supported a concept called “enhanced payload review,” modeled on the Federal Aviation Administration’s existing payload review process for commercial launch licenses, as a way to eliminate regulatory uncertainty about government oversight of non-traditional commercial space ventures.

“The United States of America is the only nation that can protect space for the free world and for responsible entities, and preserves space for generations to come,” he said in that speech. “This is our Sputnik moment. America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation, and the moon is our path to being so.”

While Bridenstine is seen as a rising star on space issues in Congress, his influence there may be limited. When first elected in 2012, he said he would serve no more than three terms, a pledge he reiterated during this year’s campaign for a third term.

Bridenstine originally backed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for the Republican nomination for president. He switched to Trump when Cruz dropped out the race earlier this year.

Bridenstine remained a strong supporter for Trump, even after the release of a controversial video in early October involving Trump that caused a number of Republicans, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, to withdraw their support for Trump. “Given the stakes of this election, if Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan,” Bridenstine tweeted Oct. 12.

Work on the NASA transition team for the incoming Trump administration is reportedly being led by Mark Albrecht, who was the executive secretary of the National Space Council during the George H.W. Bush administration. Space policy advisers to the Trump campaign said in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election that re-establishing the council would be a priority for the Trump administration.

Albrecht may also be considered for the NASA administrator position. Another name circulated as a potential candidate for the job is former astronaut Eileen Collins, who spoke briefly at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July but stopped short of formally endorsing Trump. Collins, in that speech, said that the nation needed “leadership that will make America’s space program first again.”

Defense transition leaders
Bridenstine’s name has also been mentioned in connection with the position of Secretary of the Air Force. Among other potential candidates for the position is former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who earlier in his career worked for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.

The overall Defense and Veterans Affairs transition effort for the incoming Trump administration is being led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph “Keith” Kellogg. He’s most well known for being part of the U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Kellogg served as the Chief Operating Officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from November 2003 to March 2004 while working for Oracle Corporation, a technology and IT-focused defense contractor. He later worked as the executive vice president for research and technology systems for CACI International, a national security focused IT provider, and then as the senior vice president for ground combat programs at Cubic Defense Applications.

Kellogg is a 32-year veteran whose career includes commanding the famous 82nd Airborne Division and working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He served as the 82nd’s Chief of Staff during Operation Desert Storm, and also served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Mira Ricardel, who is leading the defense subdivision of President-elect Trump’s Defense and Veterans Affairs transition team, was the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security during the George W. Bush administration.

She left government in 2005 and spent nine years doing business development for Boeing Network and Space Systems and Boeing Strategic Missile & Defense Systems before joining a small Alexandria, Virginia-based consulting firm, Federal Budget IQ, last November.

That transition team is considering several people for Secretary of Defense, according to a list circulated by Mike Tierney, vice president of consulting firm Jacques & Associates. They include Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.), former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose served as a defense policy advisor for the Trump campaign.

SpaceNews editor-in-chief Brian Berger and staff writer Phillip Swarts contributed to this report.