For all the flack Thiel got during the campaign, there can be no doubt his decision to support Trump has gotten Silicon Valley a foot in the White House door. Now some of the most important figures connecting the startup world and the rest of the universe will have the next president’s ear through the rest of the transition and beyond.
Alan Stern, Alan Lindenmoyer and Charles Miller are all joining the president-elect’s NASA transition team. Stern led NASA’s New Horizons flyby mission of Pluto last year, but also has considerable experience as a consultant and entrepreneur in the space sector. He has advised the Florida-based Lunar X Prize participant Moon Express, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, as well as Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin reusable rocket company.
Lindenmoyer was NASA’s Program Manager for Commercial Crew and Cargo between 2005 and 2014, then the manager of the Commercial Space Capabilities Office between April 2014 and December last year. Miller has been the VP of Government Business Development with Elbit in the US since 2010.
The big issue is whether or not NASA will continue to farm out key hardware development (i.e., rockets) to private companies, an extremely lucrative prospect that has already gotten SpaceX some big contracts. Blue Origin might also stand to benefit, being the only other major game in town working on reusable rockets.
About a year ago, NASA signed an agreement worth about $700 million with SpaceX to ferry five cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS). By spring 2012, NASA had paid between $400 and $500 million to SpaceX for long-term launch agreements. In August 2012, SpaceX signed a $440 million deal with NASA to develop what would become the Raptor space capsule, capable of supporting humans on launches.
It suffices to say that Thiel’s appointments will likely ramp up the privatization of development for NASA because of the faster pace and believe it or not lower costs that these companies offer.
Both Musk and Bezos were part of a meeting with Donald Trump and his transition team last week, with Musk joining Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Bezos and Trump indirectly feuded during the 2016 campaign, as Bezos’s Washington Post often drew Trump’s ire on the campaign trail.