Biden Team Engaging with NASA, Industry

Biden Team Engaging with NASA, Industry

President-elect Joe Biden’s Agency Review Team for NASA is hard at work engaging with the agency and the space industry according to two people involved in those activities. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris officially won the Electoral College vote today 306-232 and will take office on January 20, 2021.

Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, said today that the Agency Review Team is “engaged” and “we’re moving on discussions and working through plans.”

Chuck Beames, Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Office of York Space Systems, said he also has been talking with them and “it appears that there will be lots of opportunities for more of the sort of commercial type of activities and earth sciences stuff in NASA and also commercial remote sensing just generally.  They’re looking for opportunities and we’re looking to help with that.”

The Agency Review Team, also called the landing team or landing party, is led by Ellen Stofan, Director of the National Air and Space Museum and a former NASA chief scientist.

Lueders and Beames were two of the winners of Space News’ annual awards for excellence and innovation.  Lueders was recognized as Government Leader of the Year and York Space Systems as Startup of the Year.  They participated in a panel discussion along with two of the other winners: Tory Bruno, President and CEO of the United Launch Alliance (ULA), honored as Large Company Leader of the Year; and Blake Larson, Corporate Vice President and President, Northrop Grumman Space Systems, representing Northrop Grumman, Large Company of the Year.

Other awardees were:

  • NASA’s Mars Perseverance (Mars 2020), Government Mission of the Year
  • SpaceX’s Demo-2, Commercial Mission of the Year
  • ICEYE, Small Company of the Year
  • Nobu Okada, Founder and CEO, Astroscale, Small Company Leader of the Year
  • Secure World Foundation, Space Stewardship Award

Responding to a question about lessons learned from the need to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lueders and Bruno agreed that the workplace will never be the same as before.

“We’re not going back,” Lueders exclaimed, laughingly saying she had been in a virtual meeting today with six executives who were able to share their screens without the help of administrative aides.  In both NASA and ULA, personnel will be able to vary coming to the office or working from home and there will be less business travel.

Bruno projected that “we’re not going to return to the way things were done before. We’re going to move to a hybrid workplace where we have a number of people who are either permanently working from home or the majority of our population will be splitting their time between working at home and working in the office.”  He anticipates more productivity because of fewer sick days. “Several of the things we do for the pandemic were not that hard and absolutely crushed that normal sort of baseline level of absenteeism due to being sick that we have. Now we know we don’t have to have that.” Lueders seconded that observation, adding that what will be important is giving people flexibility to pick their workspace based on individual needs.

One of the first issues the incoming Biden Administration will have to tackle at NASA is what to do about the Human Landing Systems (HLS) for the Artemis program. Three companies have 10-month contracts with NASA for preliminary design that expire in February.  The current plan is to quickly choose one or two of them to proceed to the next phase. That schedule is based on the Trump Administration’s goal of returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, a deadline chosen to coincide with the end of a second Trump term if he won reelection. He did not, and many were skeptical about whether that date was technically or budgetarily achievable in any case.  Neither the House nor the Senate appropriations bills provide the level of funding NASA requested for FY2021.

Lueders praised the three contractors — Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX — today for meeting their milestones despite all the uncertainty. “Our human landing system team has not missed a beat.”

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