WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said other nations are still interested in cooperating with the United States in spaceflight despite concerns about what changes the next administration might make to the agency’s programs.
Bolden, speaking at a May 23 breakfast held by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies here, said the concerns he’s heard from other nations are typical for any change in administrations, and not specific to the current presidential campaign.
“It is a transition time. It doesn’t make any difference what was going on here, anytime there’s a transition from administrations, people are wondering what’s going to happen,” he said. “Everybody’s concerned about what would happen, as everybody always is during a transition.”
Neither of the likely major party presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, have offered many details about what changes they would make to NASA’s programs and plans if elected. Bolden has previously indicated he plans to step down as NASA administrator by next January.
Bolden did suggest that, regardless who wins, some programs are likely to survive. He noted he recently called the Space Launch System a “protected” program. “What I meant was that SLS enjoys the support of the administration and the Congress,” he said. “Unless something dramatic happens, a lot of the Congress will still be there” after the election.
Despite that uncertainty about the future, Bolden said he’s continuing to meet with other nations about potential international cooperation, which he said was driven by their desire to work with NASA. “I’m not going around because we’re trying to push our way into anybody’s house,” he said. “We’re going because people are asking us to come.”
Bolden said he has a busy international travel schedule this summer, driven by existing and potential partnerships. He will be traveling next week to Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for meetings. The UAE visit, he said, will include signing an agreement whereby NASA will provide support for UAE’s first Mars orbiter mission, scheduled for launch in 2020.
Bolden said he also plans to meet with European Space Agency officials in Paris to convince them to support an extension of the International Space Station to at least 2024. ESA is the only ISS partner yet to endorse the extension, although Bolden said after his speech he wasn’t aware of any significant opposition to an extension by major ESA member states.
A later trip, Bolden said, includes a visit to the Farnborough Air Show in England in July, as well as a stop in Niger to sign a deal to set up a ground station there for NASA’s SERVIR Earth observation program.
In late summer, Bolden said he plans to visit Japan and China. The visit in China will be an opportunity to sign an agreement with Chinese officials regarding aeronautics and air traffic management cooperation. That agreement, he said, is still be being finalized, including interagency reviews in the U.S. “I never know whether I’m going to sign something until I sit down with pen in hand,” he said.
Bolden said he was unsure if he would be able to meet with leaders of China’s human spaceflight program on that trip. “It depends on whether or not there’s a meeting in the offing and whether or not we get no objections from the appropriations committees,” he said, a reference to a requirement in recent appropriations acts that NASA notify Congress of any planned bilateral cooperation between NASA and its Chinese counterparts.
He added that he remains optimistic that, eventually, the U.S. and China will cooperate more closely in space. “It’s not going to happen during my tenure as NASA administrator,” he said, “but I think we will evolve to something reasonable.”