Morhard Senate
James Morhard testifies at his Aug. 23 Senate confirmation hearing to become NASA deputy administrator. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Updated 6:30 p.m. Eastern with reaction.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The Senate confirmed James Morhard to be NASA’s deputy administrator late Oct. 11.

In a voice vote without debate, the Senate confirmed Morhard’s nomination to be the agency’s second-in-command. The Senate Commerce Committee had favorably reported the nomination, also on a voice vote, Sept. 5.

The White House nominated Morhard, the deputy sergeant-at-arms for the Senate, in July. The nomination surprised many because Morhard had effectively no experience in the space industry. He had served as a Senate appropriations staffer and a lobbyist before becoming deputy sergeant-at-arms, responsible for the day-to-day administrative activities of the legislative body.

Morhard faced some skepticism during an Aug. 23 confirmation hearing by the commerce committee, with members asking him about his expertise and his views on controversial topics like climate change. Morhard emphasized his background overseeing Senate operations and earlier work on the appropriations committee.

“Over and over again, I’ve led organizations through difficult situations by creating an atmosphere of collaborative teamwork that turns visions and goals into realities,” he said at that hearing. “I’m able to focus, helping to lead a situation that continually tends towards disorder.”

“I believe my work at NASA, if confirmed, is empowering scientists and engineers and astronauts and technicians,” he said when asked about criticism regarding his lack of space experience, citing his oversight of Senate activities ranging from operations to security. “That part, I think, I can bring to NASA.”

In a statement Oct. 12, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine welcomed Morhard. “I look forward to working with him as we look towards NASA’s next 60 years,” he said. “His legislative and managerial talents will serve NASA well as we accomplish stunning achievements.”

Some in industry had been expecting the Senate to confirm Morhard soon, based on the lack of controversy surrounding his nomination. By contrast, Bridenstine, nominated to be NASA administrator in September 2017, had to wait seven and a half months before the Senate voted along party lines to confirm him.

“I think he will be confirmed hopefully soon, now that the Senate’s plate has cleared up on all the nominations,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in an Oct. 10 speech at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight here.

In a statement Oct. 12, Stallmer said he was looking forward to working with him. “The industry echoes Mr. Morhard’s support for expanding public-private partnerships, acquisition reform, increased strategic investments and enhanced innovation to further our nation’s space collective space vision,” he said. “We look forward to Mr. Morhard’s voice and intellect as we work together to further expand U.S. leadership in space.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...