The NASA Watch web site is a fascinating source of rumors from often unnamed space policy sources as well as the latest resentments from its author. A couple of tidbits, quoting recent Tweets, may provide a fascinating window into how the future direction of the space program is developing behind the scenes at the Trump administration.

First, some gossip about NASA’s future leadership. “Latest inside-the-beltway #NASA dream team being chattered about: Administrator: Jim Bridenstine Deputy Administrator: Scott Pace.”

Most of this is unsurprising.

Bridenstine has often been mentioned as the front-runner for the job of leading NASA. His views on commercial partnerships as well as retaining the Orion/Space Launch System make his attractive to both commercial space advocates and people with a more traditional role for the space agency. Bridenstine also has a well-developed rationale for a return to the moon, which coincides with the thinking of the Trump White House.

The idea of making Pace Bridenstine’s deputy is something of a surprise. Pace, a protégé of former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, has often been mentioned for the top job.

He comes from the traditional NASA camp rather than the commercial space faction. He also has lots of experience at the space agency and should provide Bridenstine, currently a member of Congress, assistance in the day to day management of NASA.

Then a confirmation of the source of the directive to study an early lunar mission. “Sources tell us that the impetus for Robert Lightfoot to send the SLS EM-1 crew memo was the Trump White House.”

It had been assumed that Lightfoot, the current acting administrator, would not advance such a radical idea as sending astronauts to the moon on the first flight of the Orion/Space Launch System had it not been for outside prompting.

It confirms that the Trump administration is keen to make a big splash where human spaceflight is concerned in its first term. The question remains, will the space agency step up or will Trump be compelled to turn to the commercial space sector if it comes back with an unsatisfactory answer? Stay tuned.

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