Some additional insight into the Trump Administration's space policy was revealed today in Washington DC. Meeting at the Cosmos Club, attendees at the 11th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law heard from a number of speakers including former Congressman Bob Walker, who is advising the Trump Transition Team, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) who has been conducting a behind-the-scenes effort to become the next administrator of NASA.
Walker spoke first and said that the Trump space policy came together rather quickly at the end of the campaign and that he was asked to come up with one and deliver it - the next day. He cautioned the audience that just because he wrote some things this is not indicative of where the Transition Team - and the incoming NASA leadership - would necessarily go. That said, Walker said that there is an intent that the National Space Council be re-instituted so as to guide all space activities. civilian, military, and commercial. Walker went on to say that the Trump team is looking for a space policy that is "disruptive, resilient, and enduring".
For one thing, Walker said that they are looking for a much longer life for the ISS - and that it will need to be refurbished and upgraded. He speculated that it would need to be handed over to an organization or consortium eventually. They are also looking for opportunities to have the commercial sector backfill for NASA so that NASA can focus on deep space exploration. Walker was very clear on this point noting that there was an awareness of many government programs that "take a decade to do with technology that ends up being out of date".
At no time did Walker discuss NASA's Journey To Mars, or any other destination such as the Moon, preferring only to refer to "deep space exploration". To be fair, no one specifically asked him about these topics.
Walker said that he was not on the Trump Transition Team itself but that he was advising the Transition Team. When I asked him if he had any interest in becoming NASA Administrator he said "No". He did say that he had an interest in working with Newt Gingrich on broader issues in addition to NASA.
Walker was asked several times about SLS/Orion - in the context of Trump's recent comments about Boeing and Air Force One. Walker did not answer the questions specifically but went into a broader generalization that Trump is not a politician but rather that he is a deal maker. He also thought that Trump's funding of an ice rink in New York a few years back was a good example of what kind of president he'd be. Walker went on to say that Vice President-elect Pence would be the de-facto "prime minister" and run the government while Donald Trump went out to cut deals.
The issue of Earth science eventually came up. Walker said that the Trump administration is not looking to cancel NASA climate science but rather that they wanted to transfer all of it to other agencies who might have greater expertise. Earth centric research would be transferred so as to allow NASA to focus on space exploration.
As Walker concluded responding to questions the meeting had a coffee break. Walker continued to talk to audience members as they got coffee. At one point Rep. Jim Bridenstine (the next speaker) showed up accompanied by a nervous-looking staffer (Looks like Bridenstine Senior Policy Adviser Christopher Ingram aka @cwingraham ?). Bridenstine went over to Walker and said "good to see you again". After a short chat between Walker and Bridenstine it was time for Bridenstine to speak.
Bridenstine read from prepared remarks that were identical to things he has said in public before. He is worried about China and space-based threats and made little mention about exploration or other issues that confront NASA. His biggest interest seems to have to do with who should manage space traffic. Answer: the FAA - not DoD.
When it was time for questions, Bridenstine said that he was too busy with other things and that he "had to run". I raised my hand hoping to try and get him to answer a question i.e. "are you still trying to become the next Administrator of NASA" but Bridenstine woud not allow me to ask him a question - his eyes darting over to his staffer who was standing nearby as my hand went up in the air. Instead, he rattled off an email address for me to send an inquiry to and then made for the door with his staffer. In other words, no comment - see ya later.