Peter Thiel’s conflicts of interest could be a drag on the space agency
by GRENNAN MILLIKEN
This week, venture capitalist Peter Thiel scored a big one for private space companies by successfully lobbying U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team to appoint three representatives from the commercial space industry.
Yesterday, the Landing Team — as the NASA transition group is being called — appointed Charles Miller to the band. Miller is an ex-NASA official who has been a vocal mouthpiece for private space companies over the years.
Expected to follow in his wake are Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a private space industry trade group, and Alan Lindenmoyer, ex-head of NASA’s commercial space taxi program.
The appointments come as a result of an ongoing internal struggle within the Trump transition team over the future direction of NASA. One side, initially the one largely in control of the space agency’s transition, favors keeping the status quo.
This means, essentially, that NASA would continue to support government contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK, and keep working on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft — the planned followers of the Space Shuttle.
The other side, however, wants increased commercialization and increased use of reusable spacecraft. With Silicon Valley giant Peter Thiel now on their side, they’re finally gaining steam.
Thiel is not only buddies with the president-elect, but longtime friends of SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who heads his own space project, Blue Origin. Thiel is also a member of the more than two dozen people on the executive council that is overseeing the current transition of power.
Like those orbiting around the president-elect himself, Thiel faces numerous possible conflicts of interest. Founders Fund, one of Thiel’s companies, is a significant investor in the private space company SpaceX. He would stand to benefit from the commercial space industry playing a larger role in the national space discussions.
This conflict of interest is just one of many others surrounding him as many of his companies stand to benefit at least indirectly from cabinet decisions he might influence. His $2.9 billion worth stretches across many industries including PayPal and Facebook, where he serves on the board of directors.
“This is going to be an administration ridden by conflicts of interest, starting with the president’s own,” Norm Eisen, Pres. Barack Obama’s former ethics czar, told Politico.
With the way things are shaping up, it’s possible NASA will be riddled with them, too.
Originally published at motherboard.vice.com.