One of the burning questions facing the Trump Administration is when to roll out a new Space policy. News reports abound about plans to an early return to the moon and commercial partnerships. We also know that the president intends to reestablish the White House National Space Council, to be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. But highest in the minds of space policy observers is who will be nominated to be NASA administrator, and who will be nominated to direct the National Space Council? NASA Watch is reporting that those people are likely to be Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, and Scott Pace, a former NASA official, respectively.

Who is Jim Bridenstine?

Rep. Bridenstine is a third-term congressman who has developed a particular interest in space policy. He has offered the American Space Renaissance Act that is a comprehensive reform package covering civilian, military, and commercial space. He has stated that he would like to be NASA's administrator and is an advocate of a return to the moon. Bridenstine is very popular in the aerospace community and is particularly close to Sen. Ted Cruz, whose subcommittee would confirm the nomination of the next NASA chief. Cruz had all but endorsed Bridenstine for NASA administrator. He would bring a fresh, outside perspective to the space agency, as well as ties to Congress, upon which funding for NASA depends.

Who is Scott Pace?

If Bridenstine is a NASA outsider, Pace is a consummate space agency insider. He has worked at the Rand Corporation and the White House Office of Science and Technology. When Pace was at NASA, he was Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation. He was a close ally of Michael Griffin, NASA administrator under President George W.

Bush. Pace is currently a professor of the practice of international affairs at George Washington University. He is also director of the Space Policy Institute at that university's Elliott School of International Affairs. Pace is a supporter of a return to the moon, which was the centerpiece of the Constellation program when he was at NASA.

He was a firm critic of President Obama’s decision to cancel that program and to bypass the moon.

Implications for space policy

Personnel creates policy, and it seems that both Bridenstine and Pace will be of the same mind when it comes to a return to the moon. The trick is for the two men to work together, with the White House Space Council and NASA being on the same page. During the George H. W, Bush administration, then-NASA Administrator Richard Truly went rogue and worked to undermine the Space Exploration Initiative. Truly was eventually fired and replaced by Dan Goldin, but by then the damage was done and the first serious attempt to return Americans to the moon faded and died when Bill Clinton became president. President Trump will have to make sure that disagreements between NASA and the White House do not sink another high-profile space project.