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Jim Bridenstine for NASA administrator

It’s rare that someone actively seeks to be NASA administrator. But Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) has informed the Trump transition team that he would like the job. One reason he is campaigning to head an agency that is at once popular with the American people and held in some disrespect by the political class is that he harbors ambitions for the space agency that go beyond business as usual.

Currently in his third and last term, as he has term-limited himself, Bridenstine is the author of the American Space Renaissance Act, which contains a wide-ranging number of proposals to reform military space, commercial space, and NASA. More recently he posted in his Congressional blog an explanation of “Why the Moon Matters.” He provides a cogent, economic reason why Americans should return to the moon, the sooner the better.

{mosads}Bridenstine’s rationale revolves around the billions of tons of water ice known to reside in the permanently darkened craters at the lunar poles. Other space visionaries have noted that the water can be refined into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, making the moon into a giant refueling station for spacecraft traveling to and from deep space destinations.

Bridenstine takes the idea one step farther and suggests a practical, economic reason for returning to the moon to access water for rocket fuel.

“Water ice on the Moon could be used to refuel satellites in orbit or to perform on-orbit maintenance. Government and commercial satellite operators could save hundreds of millions of dollars by servicing their satellites with resources from the Moon rather than disposing of, and replacing, their expensive investments. Eventually, the customers of Direct TV, Dish Network, internet broadband from space, satellite radio, weather data, and others could see their bills reduced and their service capacities greatly increased.”

This proposed system would require a new generation of satellites that can be refueled and use LOX/Hydrogen fuel for station keeping in geosynchronous orbit. Bridenstine’s idea would require massive changes in the way the current space economy works. The one product that has been returned from space so far is information, including video, internet, and audio relay, GPS positioning, weather and land use data, and military reconnaissance. Bridenstine may be on to a way to make all of those things cheaper. Incidentally, if he is right, he has found a way to make a return to the moon pay for itself.

Returning to the moon would have other benefits. The same lunar water that Bridenstine thinks could be used to service satellites would make NASA’s Journey to Mars cheaper by making the moon a refueling stop. The moon has a wealth of commercial, scientific, and political opportunities. Best of all, America and her allies could return to the moon in just a few years, according to a number of studies.

The argument against Bridenstine for NASA Administrator is that he lacks experience in managing large organizations. On the other hand, he brings with him a coherent vision that will provide the space agency something it has lacked for the past few years, a clearly defined direction.

Bridenstine would also bring together two warring factions that have divided the aerospace community. On one side are those like former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who prefer approaching space exploration from a traditional, Apollo-like method. On the other side are those, like Charles Miller of NextGenSpace, a member of the NASA transition team, who champion a more commercial approach. Because of his advocacy for commercial space, Bridenstine is a favorite of the commercial space faction. On the other hand, he advocates using the Orion spacecraft and the heavy-lift Space Launch System, which would make him acceptable to the Apollo redux faction. He suggests that other hardware, such as a lunar lander and surface habitats, should be acquired commercially, much in the same way as spacecraft are being acquired in the commercial crew program.

If Donald Trump nominates Bridenstine for NASA administrator and the Senate confirms him, they will not only be choosing a man, but the vision for space exploration that he brings with him. A return to the moon to benefit the Earth’s economy, among other things, is a compelling enough vision to recommend it and the man who is advocating it. 

Mark Whittington writes frequently about space and politics. He has just published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Jim Bridenstine

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