Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Given the rapid success of private space companies, NASA has gone through some profound soul-searching about what its role should be in the rest of the 21st century.

The answer: NASA will continue to be a trailblazer for those private sector innovators. In other words, NASA — and not the billionaires — will still be shining the light. Specifically, NASA — which celebrated its 60th anniversary this week — will prove concepts for private missions in low-Earth orbit, to the Moon or Mars, NASA administrator James Bridenstine tells Axios.

What's next: Bridenstine told Axios in June that NASA’s job is not to do the “routine” things, but rather to pioneer new technologies and missions. In certain circumstances then, NASA would be yet one customer among many, he said.

  • The first test of this vision will come when, assuming the Trump administration gets its way, the Space Station is turned over to the private sector sometime after 2024, opening up low-Earth orbit to more commercial applications.
  • In addition, NASA's goal of returning to the moon is in large part motivated by growing commercial interest in activities such as mining, tourism and developing a supply station for deep space missions.
“So what NASA needs to do, in essence, is blaze the trail and then let commercial [entities] come in and continue the operations after the trail has been blazed. And then we go a step further where commercial isn't quite ready or willing to go based on return on investment.”
— James Bridenstine, NASA administrator

Bridenstine has earned negative headlines for recommending the space agency study the possibility of allowing companies to sponsor NASA missions, raising the prospect of rockets painted with company logos or named after them, like sports stadiums. He’s also spoken of the need to make the agency’s astronauts more household names.

They're not alone: It’s not just NASA that is moving aggressively to tap into the capabilities of the private sector. So, too, are other federal agencies active in space, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) new "Ride Share" program for private satellites. NASA is also exploring buying data from private companies to supplement its many Earth imaging satellites.

Go deeper

14 mins ago - World

NYT: Biden won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.

Trump threatens to veto Defense spending bill over social media shield

Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday a threat to veto a must-pass end-of-year $740 billion bill defense-spending authorization bill unless Congress repeals a federal law that protects social media sites from legal liability.

Why it matters: Trump's attempt to get Congress to end the tech industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the latest escalation in his war on tech giants over what he and some other Republicans perceive as bias against conservatives.

The walls close in on Trump

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

With Bill Barr's "Et tu, Brute!" interview with AP, President Trump is watching the walls close in on his claims of fraud, hoaxes and conspiracies.

Why it matters: Trump and his legal team continue to claim election fraud. But the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia have certified their elections, a loyalist like Barr has weighed in, and lower-ranking officials have taken potshots.