Rep. Joe Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma is emerging as a consensus pick for NASA administrator, awaiting only the final approval of President-Elect Donald Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal. The announcement could come as early as the first week in January, but that and the Bridenstine pick is subject to change.

Two factions are reported to be locked in a struggle for the future of NASA. In one corner reside the supporters of the traditional way of doing things, such as building the big but expensive heavy lift Space Launch system. In the other corner are those who advocate more public-private partnerships, using commercial rockets such as those being built by SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Oddly, Bridenstine seems to approve of both approaches to one extent or another, favoring the commercial crew program that is developing spacecraft to send cargo and eventually astronauts to and from the International Space Station as well as NASA’s deep space exploration program. He is favored by the commercial space advocates but might also find support for the traditional NASA faction.

If Bridenstine is picked to head NASA, he will have to develop a balanced approach, incorporating big NASA and commercial strategies. One opportunity he might have is the long discussed pivot back to the moon that the Trump people seem to approve of.

The idea is that the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft would be one part of a return to the moon architecture.

But a commercially developed lunar lander and moon surface habitats would also be part of the effort. Eventually heavy lift rockets being developed in the commercial sector, such as Blue Origin’s New Armstrong, would supplement and even, in the fullness of time, supplant the SLS unless the latter can be made to evolve into something that is cheaper to operate.

Speculation abounds that Trump himself may take a hand, as he did with the new Air Force One and the F-35 fighter, and personally lobby the aerospace contractors building the SLS to find ways to make it cheaper to operate. Trump’s personal, hands on style is unique in the modern presidency, but it has the opportunity of forcing changes in the way the government procures assets like fighter planes and space rockets.

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