With help from Bryan Bender
— NASA will kick its moon exploration plans into high gear over the next month with announcements on what it wants its commercial partners to deliver and where.
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— How space politics were born: historian Douglas Brinkley talks about his new book on the “Moon Shot” and why the Kennedy administration steered billions to Southern states.
— Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson previews for POLITICO the draft bill to create a Space Force but is mum on its chances for approval.
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THE DAWN OF ASTROPOLITICS. That’s a big part of the backstory in a forthcoming book about President John F. Kennedy and the space race to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing he set in motion. “I started thinking, ‘why did Kennedy put $25 billion to go to the moon?” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley tells us ahead of the release April 2 of “Moon Shot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race.” “That would be $180 billion today.We can’t do a $5 billion wall. Why did John F. Kennedy put so much of his legacy on space exploration?” The answer, he discovered, was just as much about electoral politics as beating the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
“[They] wanted to build up the South and the Southwest,” Brinkley says. “If you look at where all the money went for NASA in Kennedy’s years, it went to states like Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida. This was vulnerable territory for Kennedy. This was going to be big government technology dollars anchored on the space program. And he starts putting government money to work in these southern states, which would ostensibly keep them in the Democratic control for 1964.”
The book also traces the role of other key figures — lawmakers, rocket scientists, and then-NASA Administrator James Webb, who Brinkley describes as “a genius at how to move money around and get things done on Capitol Hill. I have never encountered an administrator of a bureaucracy as shrewd and effective as Webb. He really ran NASA like Swiss clockwork.”
Brinkley told us how he was captivated by the Apollo program as a nine year old, later cultivated astronaut and fellow Ohioan Neil Armstrong, and what surprised him most during his research. “What’s remarkable about this is that it worked – integrating the federal government, state government, academia, the aerospace industry,” he said. Read our full Q&A here.
NEW MOON MISSIONS MOVING FORWARD. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine set out an ambitious timeline for the agency’s lunar exploration goals on Thursday afternoon, including the next step in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The agency is expected to announce the within a month details for the program’s first mission, such as where NASA wants to go on the moon and how much mass the mission will need to transport. It’ll then be up to the nine companies awarded contracts in November to set a timeline.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wouldlike to see flights happen this year, he told reporters. “This is a program that’s moving fast and it’s moving fast intentionally,” he said. “The key here is speed, but again, when we talk about speed, we don’t want to do speed for the sake of speed, we want sustainability at the same time.”
What will they launch? We’ll know some details next week, reported Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the science mission director at NASA. He said the agency plans to announce a dozen payloads developed within NASA, including instruments will involve demonstrating entry, descent and landing technology as well as prospecting for resources on the moon.
But what about human missions? NASA is still determined to get American boots back on the moon. The agency held an industry day on Thursday to ask companies for ideas on a space vehicle to transfer astronauts from the proposed Lunar Gateway to lower orbits around the moon; the capability to land on the moon’s surface; and a way to refuel such assets. Proposals are due March 25, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. NASA will then make its selections by May and ideally have companies on contract for a six-month study by July, he said.
WILSON TALKS SPACE FORCE PROSPECTS WITH POLITICO: Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says proposed legislation to establish a Space Force is coming very Soon — but can’t say how Congress will respond to it. “The president will put forward a piece of draft legislation along with the budget, which should happen within the next month or so,” she told POLITICO’s Anna Palmer in the latest episode of the Women Rule podcast. “The proposal as its drafted now would keep the Space Force underneath the Department of the Air Force and it includes a chief of staff for space.”
But whether or not it happens is still a mystery. “Congress is going to have to sort that out,” Wilson said. She was also mum on rumors she is in the running to run the Pentagon. But she share how former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recruited her to lead the Air Force: “He made it pretty clear that my draft number was up.”
MAKING MOVES: Relativity adds three former SpaceX execs. Relativity Space, a small launch company using 3D printed rockets, announced Thursday that three former SpaceX employees are joining its senior leadership team. Josh Brost, who will be the vice president of government business development at Relativity, spent nine years at SpaceX. David Giger, who will be vice president of launch vehicle development for Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket, previously directed SpaceX’s engineering program And Tim Buzza, who who joined Relativity as an advisor in August and will become a distinguished engineer the company, previously spent 12 years at SpaceX.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We put humans on the moon in 1969, so I think that race is over. It’s been over for 50 years.” — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on whether NASA is competing with China in a new race to the moon.
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— For Pros: SpaceX is protesting NASA’s launch award in the Lucy mission.
— An Israeli space startup is aiming to put the first private lander on the moon.
— New dollar coin celebrates Native American contributions to the space program.
— RIP Opportunity: How a 90-day mission lasted more than a decade.
TODAY: The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting continues through Sunday in Washington, D.C.