Who Will Run NASA Now That Its Acting Administrator Is Retiring?

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who has run the space agency since Jan. 20, 2017, announced Monday he is retiring at the end of April, according to a report.

Lightfoot sent a memo to NASA staff announcing his departure and said he would work with President Donald Trump’s administration to transition the agency to new leadership. He did not specify who would be taking his place, Spaceflight Now reported.

The Senate has not confirmed Trump’s nominee for the post, GOP Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, despite the Senate Commerce Committee advancing his nomination in 2017. The committee vote to advance Bridenstine was split down party lines.

Bridenstine’s confirmation remains in limbo due to staunch resistance from Senate Democrats and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who voiced concerns over Bridenstine heading NASA.

Bridenstine’s lack of experience as an engineer, scientist or “space professional” should disqualify the Oklahoma congressman from leading NASA, Rubio’s Florida counterpart, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, said. Rubio, though he has not taken an official position against Bridenstine, expressed misgivings about confirming a politician to head the space agency.

“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics, and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Rubio said in September. “I would hate to see an administrator held up — on [grounds of] partisanship, political arguments, past votes or statements made in the past — because the agency can’t afford it and it can’t afford the controversy.”

The Oklahoma representative does not know if he will be confirmed before Lightfoot exits the agency but “remains optimistic there will be a confirmation vote soon,” Bridenstine’s Communications Director Sheryl Kaufman told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

Lightfoot, who is the longest serving acting administrator in NASA’s history, believes Bridenstine may be the best man for the job considering the circumstances.

“From my perspective, as the one sitting in that chair, it is always of value to have the person the president wants in this position,” Lightfoot said in March, according to Spaceflight Now. “And I think that would be important for us all from that standpoint.”

“But I can tell you for the past year, I’ve had no trouble having access to the people I need to have access to,” Lightfoot added. “I’ve been to both [National] Space Councils. I haven’t had to sit in the back row. I’ve sat right at the table as the administrator would be. But there is value in having the approved presidential nominee in the chair.”

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