NASA "Beachhead Team" Taking Shape, Lightfoot Optimistic About NASA's Future

NASA "Beachhead Team" Taking Shape, Lightfoot Optimistic About NASA's Future

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who will become Acting Administrator on Friday at noon, expressed optimism today about NASA’s future under the incoming Trump Administration.  During a speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable, he also said that some of the Trump landing team members would be staying on at NASA — the so-called “beachhead team.”  He did not name names, but elsewhere rumors are circulating about who will end up where, temporarily at least. 

Lightfoot emphasized that NASA historically has bipartisan support and while he could not offer any details about the transition, he conveyed certainty that NASA’s “enduring purpose” to “discover, explore, develop, and enable” will prevail.  He recounted comments from and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos at the recent Arthur C. Clarke Foundation awards ceremony where, in response to a question about how did he know what needed to change, Bezos replied that it is just as important to know what needs to stay the same. 

In that vein, Lightfoot said that what NASA needs to keep doing is “fostering new discoveries, expanding human knowledge, and pushing humans deeper into space — I call that our day job.”  That involves NASA’s role in global engagement and diplomacy through international cooperation, in national security through a shared industrial base, in economic development and growth through investments in space technology, in responding to societal challenges with STEM education and assisting developing countries with water purification based on International Space Station systems as an example, and in leadership and inspiration, he said.

At a meeting last week, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden expressed optimism about NASA’s future.  Today, Lightfoot echoed that message, saying “the best is yet to come.”

Separately, rumors are floating about who among the Trump transition team’s eight members will remain at the agency.  One surprise is that the head of NASA’s landing team, Chris Shank, may be moving to DOD to work on national security space programs, rather than NASA.  Shank began his career in the Air Force and worked at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Air Force Space Command before joining the House Science Committee and becoming involved in NASA issues. He was a key member of Mike Griffin’s team when Griffin was NASA Administrator and many expected him to remain at NASA.

Three landing team members who are rumored to be staying on are Greg Autry (as White House liaison), Rod Liesveld and Jeff Waksman.  Two other names that have surfaced are Erik Noble, rumored to be the new White House advisor for NASA, and Brandon Eden.  Noble is an atmospheric scientist who worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York from 2007-2013.  According to his LinkedIn page, most recently he was a political data analyst for the Trump campaign’s data and voter outreach team.  Eden is legislative director for Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) and has prior experience with other Republican House members, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Republican National Committee according to his LinkedIn page, which also notes that he was a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2001-2007.

No official announcements have been made about any of these personnel appointments.  They are rumors only.

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