After pulling over billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to his overall White House transition team, President-elect Donald Trump has made another Elon-Musk-connected team addition, this time to his NASA transition team. The addition of Dr. Greg Autry comes as good news for SpaceX and commercial space fans overall.
Dr. Autry, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, focuses his research on innovation policy and government impact on entrepreneurism, with “new space” as a particular area of interest since 2003. He currently sits on the editorial board of the New Space Journal and, along with having published in several major news outlets, was the lead author on a report for the FAA Offices of Commercial Space Transportation analyzing the competitive advantage of the United States in the human spaceflight market.
In early September, Dr. Autry published an op-ed on SpaceNews.com advocating for the future of private space exploration despite the recent SpaceX launch pad anomaly. In the piece, he defended SpaceX’s 93% launch success rate compared to NASA’s 91% overall, and encouraged continuing support of the developments being made in commercial space programs using history as a guide for the potential advancements.
Further in favor of SpaceX, Dr. Autry outlined his policy recommendations for the incoming presidential administration in his mid-October Forbes article. In the piece, he advocated for the complete defunding of NASA’s Space Launch System, citing the high budget allotment for the program which has failed to keep up with the commercial space company technologies of SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Other team members added for Trump’s NASA transition are Steve Cook of Dynetics, a corporate vice president heavily involved in the AR-1 engine to replace the current Russian-made RD-180 being used by United Launch Alliance, and Jack Burns, a major advocate for lunar-based missions.
As is the case with other government departments, NASA will be making top level administration changes during the presidential administration transition, something that will have major impacts on the direction the agency will take in the coming years.
For historical context, NASA underwent a major change in direction under President Obama when the moon-focused Constellation program was canceled and the space shuttle was retired, temporarily handing human trips to the International Space Station over to the Russians via purchased rocket seats. The idea was for money to be invested into NASA’s commercial space program, thus majorly benefiting companies like SpaceX, but the plan was rerouted in Congress, and the birth of the Space Launch System came from political maneuvering over economic concerns. The SLS mission has now been directed towards deep space exploration and included as part of NASA’s “Journey to Mars”.
It’s almost anyone’s guess where things will head policy-wise under President Trump, but the direction seems to be circling three goals: the restoration of U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, a focus on deep space exploration over Earth-focused missions, and breaking down barriers hindering commercial space programs. While there are varying voices included on Trump’s transition team, having a strong advocate for the benefits of commercial space flight is welcome news.