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Acting NASA chief’s parting advice: Accept risk

Robert Lightfoot
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot is dwarfed by a chart showing Earth, the moon and Mars at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “I realize it’s not to scale,” Lightfoot said. “It is to scale, though, in priority.” (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA should rethink its approach to the risks of spaceflight as it prepares for a new wave of exploration, the space agency’s outgoing chief says.

“Protecting against risk and being safe are not the same thing,” Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot told a standing-room crowd here today at the 34th Space Symposium. “Risk is just simply a calculation of likelihood and consequence.”

Lightfoot said he’s worried that excessive risk aversion could hobble NASA as it prepares to build an outpost in lunar orbit and blaze a trail to Mars.

“Would we have ever launched Apollo in the environment we’re in today?” he said. “Would Buzz and Neil have been able to go to the moon in the risk posture we live in today? Would we have launched the first shuttle with a crew?”

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NASA’s acting chief says he’ll retire in April

Robert Lightfoot
Acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot, shown here in a 2015 photo, says he’ll retire in April. (NASA / MSFC Photo / Fred Deaton)

Robert Lightfoot, who has been serving as NASA’s acting administrator since the start of the Trump administration, says he’ll be retiring at the end of next month.

His departure after more than a year of caretaker duty could open the power vacuum in space policy even wider — or force a resolution.

President Donald Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., to fill NASA’s top post last September, but his nomination has languished because Senate confirmation is in doubt. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is said to be a key opponent, claiming that Bridenstine would be too much of a political choice for a post that’s not traditionally held by a politician.

For what it’s worth, Rubio was a target of Bridenstine’s criticism during 2016’s presidential primary season.

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