NASA creates, and fills, high-level position dedicated to exploration

One of NASA‘s principal functions is to provide leadership in space exploration, and now the agency has a position that is the embodiment of that responsibility. Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s new Administrator, recently named Steve Clarke as the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration.

In a release issued by the agency on Monday June 11, 2018, Bridenstine provided a broad outline of Clarke’s responsibilities, something for which the new Deputy Associate Administrator may be well-suited.

“He’ll help integrate near-term and long-term lunar exploration with science missions and other destinations, including Mars,” noted the NASA Administrator. Clarke will facilitate interaction between different departments within the agency, as well as with commercial partners and the scientific community.

Clarke returns to NASA after a stint as a senior policy analyst with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President, and assumes his role at a time when the agency has a renewed interest in lunar exploration, with an eye to eventually sending humans to Mars.

Prior to sending astronauts back to the Moon, however, Clarke will oversee NASA’s plans to launch robotic lunar missions as soon as 2019. Those precursor missions will see uncrewed mid-sized landers — built through the cooperation of public/private partnerships — delivered to the lunar surface before eventually evolving into larger, crew-capable vehicles.

Clarke, who earned both a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering — and a Master of Science degree in engineering management — from the University of Central Florida (UCF), has held several positions within the agency since he joined NASA in 2000 as an integration engineer responsible for NASA’s scientific robotic missions. Prior to leaving NASA to work at the OSTP, he served as SMD’s Director of the Heliophysics Division.

As far as Bridenstine is concerned, Clarke’s new position is a natural fit.

“Steve returns to a position ideally suited for him and the agency as we return to the Moon,” stated the  NASA Administrator. Clarke assumes his new role immediately.

His appointment comes at a time when the U.S. space agency is poised to return to objectives that it had been given back in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush. Under the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) the agency had been directed to send astronauts to the “Moon, Mars and Beyond.”

The edicts of this program were scrapped by President Barack Obama, who opted to support the commercial programs instituted under President Bush. The Commercial Resupply Program took its first steps in December of 2008, with the Commercial Crew Program beginning in December of 2009. The Trump Administration announced its “Space Policy Directive 1” in April of this year (2018).

Under the latest change to NASA’s objectives, rather than support the Obama Administration’s directive for the agency to tow either an asteroid or part of an asteroid into lunar orbit – Space Policy Directive 1 has as its mantra to send astronauts to the “Moon, Mars and Worlds Beyond.”



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