Robert Lightfoot, NASA associate adminstrator. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

GREENBELT, Md. — The man who will soon become the acting administrator of NASA said he expects some members of the incoming Trump administration’s landing team to stay on at the agency after the inauguration.

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s top civil servant and who will thus become acting administrator Jan. 20, told an audience at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon here Jan. 17 that he expects continued support for the agency in the near term once the new administration takes office.

“We’ve got a good foundation in all the areas that we’re looking at, all the areas that we do, whether it’s our journey pushing people farther into deep space or it’s our Earth science mission, aeronautics or space technology,” he said. “We’ve got great support and I don’t see that changing as we move forward.”

Lightfoot said he’s had good relationships with the agency review team, widely known as the landing team, assigned to NASA by the incoming administration’s transition office. That landing team, which grew to eight people by late December, formally disbands Jan. 20 when Donald Trump is sworn in as president, ending the transition.

However, Lightfoot confirmed that some members of the landing team will stay on at the agency, at least temporarily, as presidential appointees. “Some are going to stay as part of the ‘beachhead team,’ which is the next round,” he said. “They’re ready to get going.”

That would be consistent with past presidential transitions, where some members of the landing team stayed at NASA after the inauguration as appointees, while others returned to their previous positions outside of government.

He hinted that the landing team members have suggested what plans the Trump administration has for NASA. “They’ve got lots of good ideas that they’re telling me about,” he said, not elaborating on those ideas. “So we’ll see how it works when we get there and reality of running a big agency actually kicks in.”

Any changes immediately after the inauguration will be constrained by what Lightfoot called the “$19.3 billion question,” or NASA’s budget. The agency is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds NASA and other federal government offices at fiscal year 2016 levels through April 28. Congress will have to act by late April to either pass a fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill, or simply extend the CR through September, as many expect.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to keep rewriting textbooks, we’re going to keep making the discoveries that we make all the time,” he said at the end of his speech, which primarily reviewed what NASA has done in the last year and what it has planned for 2017. “We’re going to keep getting ready to push humans farther and farther into space. That’s what NASA’s supposed to do.”

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...