Team Trump has chosen a #Space insider named Christopher Shank as part of the NASA landing or transition team. Shank worked for the space agency between 2005 and 2009 where he was a close adviser to then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. Since then, after a brief stint in industry, he has worked in Congress for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. The appointment is causing some consternation in some parts of the commercial space fan club.
The problem, from the perspective of commercial space supporters, is that Shank represents an institutional, NASA-centric viewpoint where it comes to space exploration. While at the space agency he supported the Bush-era Constellation program which was subsequently canceled by President Obama. In Congress, Shank helped support the Orion spacecraft and the heavy lift Space Launch System. Many commercial space advocates find these views abhorrent, believing that NASA should simply outsource its space exploration plans to the private sector, to companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Shank’s association with Mike Griffin has also raised some hackles. Griffin has been blamed, unfairly for the most part, for the troubles that beset Constellation before it was cancelled. In fact many of these problems, including the fact that the project was underfunded, occurred above his paygrade. Shank remains well respected by the space agency and in Congress and knows space policy issues intimately.
As of this writing, no other members of the Trump NASA landing team has been named nor has a date been set for when it will start embedding itself in the space agency. Its task will be to evaluate how NASA;s projects are running and what issues exist that need addressing by the new administrator. They will be given mountains of documents to read and will conduct dozens of interviews with NASA employees before the new president is sworn in.
Trump intends some significant changes at NASA. The space policy developed by his team mandates that the solar system be explored by astronauts by the end of the century and that it be done by public/private partnerships. President Obama’s decision to bypass the moon will be reversed, and American astronauts will be headed back to the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years.