Trump Taps Space Expert To Lead NASA Transition Team

President-elect Donald Trump has named a former NASA employee, House Science Committee staff member, and U.S. Air Force member to head the space agency’s transition team.

Christopher Shank, who has served important roles at NASA, will lead the transition team for America’s space agency and is expected to help increase collaboration with the military.

The announcement, made Nov. 29, means Shank will have access to NASA documents, plans, and personnel so he can guide the agency towards a Trump presidency, as he told SpaceNews.

“In a transition period, folks need to maintain their integrity, and be forthcoming.”

[Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
[Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

Most transition teams consist of dozens of individuals, meaning more announcements for NASA’s landing team are expected.

The space agency has been one of the last departments to be assigned a “landing team,” and many experts thought former National Space Council executive secretary Mark Albrecht would be named to lead the transition team.

Albrecht, however, was assigned to the Defense Department landing team and some consider the appointment as a sign Trump will ask the military to take a greater role in NASA space policy.

Shank’s placement on the space agency’s transition team also points towards greater collaboration between NASA and the Pentagon as the former Science Committee staffer has plenty of experience working with military space programs.

He worked as a NASA employee from 2005 to 2009 serving as special assistant to NASA administrator Mike Griffin, as director of strategic investments, and as budget coordinator for the space agency’s various programs.

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Shank also worked on the House Science Committee from 2001 to 2005 before working for NASA and then as deputy chief of staff for Rep. Lamar Smith who chaired the Science Committee for the past three years. He also served briefly as NASA’s chief of strategic communications working to oversee public affairs and education.

Until now, it’s been business as usual at NASA as the space agency has been one of the last departments to be assigned a Trump transition team, as NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told SpaceNews.

“It’s business as usual for us right now. When the review team gets in place, we’ll have our time with them and get a chance to see what they’re thinking, but also share the message of what we’re doing.”

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It’s still not clear what Trump’s long-term vision is for NASA, but the appointment of Shank and Albrecht to transition teams point toward a greater collaboration between the military and NASA in space.

The president-elect didn’t say much about space exploration during the campaign, but shortly before he was elected, Trump campaigned along Florida’s space coast promising to make America great again.

He has promised to be the greatest jobs president in history and one way to accomplish that would be by investing federal dollars in infrastructure and space programs, as senior space-policy expert John Logsdon told Scientific American.

“Trump is different than anyone else we’ve ever elected in values and behavioral patterns. My logic tells me that someone campaigning to ‘Make America Great Again’ would look to the space program as one of those symbols of American greatness. But that’s just logic, there is very little evidence that’s actually the case.”

[Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA]
[Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA]

Trump has gone on record saying he wanted to promote the public-private partnership in space and transform NASA from an earth-monitoring agency to one devoted to space exploration. The president-elect has given NASA the lofty goal of exploring the outer reaches of the solar system by the end of the century, but he may also be looking to counter the rise of China in space.

The country is committing enormous national resources to its military-backed space program and has already put its second space station into orbit and beaten NASA to the invention of space GPS for interplanetary travel.

International law prohibits weapons of mass destruction being placed in orbit but says nothing about conventional weapons, and with the rise of the cislunar economy in orbit above Earth, space resources will only become more valuable.

Under Trump, NASA may become more militarized as the president-elect tries to reassert American dominance in space, but at this point it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

What do you think Donald Trump’s plans are for NASA and American presence in space?

[Featured Image by John Raoux/AP Images]