More than a year has now passed since four-time astronaut Charles Bolden resigned as NASA administrator on January 20, 2017, after serving seven years. Since then, NASA has been led by an acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot. It is unprecedented that NASA has been without formal leadership for so long.
Five months ago, the Trump administration finally put forward a candidate for the position of administrator, Oklahoma congressman and pilot James Bridenstine. Although he was confirmed twice along a party line during the Senate confirmation hearings, he has yet to receive a vote for the full Senate. It is becoming increasingly clear that the White House does not have the votes to confirm Bridenstine in a Senate where Republicans have only a narrow margin.
sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, has led opposition to Bridenstine, saying he’s polarizing a figure too politically to run NASA. Nelson has convinced his fellow Florida senator, Republican Marco Rubio, to oppose Bridenstine as well. However, Nelson’s motivations may not just be the sanctity of NASA’s duality, as Bridenstine may not be pliable enough for the Florida senator who looks out for Kennedy Space Center’s interests. Nelson may be more interested in someone like Kennedy’s director, Bob Cabana, as a possible replacement for Bridenstine.
Talking to Bolden
The politics of it all could take months to resolve. In the meantime, NASA faces the difficult task of making changes to its human exploration programs sought by the Trump administration, including turning to moon landings and ending operations on the International Space Station by 2025.
In an interview with Ars, NASA’s longtime administrator, Bolden, said the space agency would struggle to make these important changes without an acknowledged leader. Praising the efforts of Lightfoot, a longtime government official, Bolden said that an acting administrator can only do so much during policy and budget battles because an acting administrator doesn’t have the prestige to stand up for the agency.
“First and foremost, an administrator’s job is to take care of the people at NASA,” Bolden said. “To have a formal administrator for this, I think it’s vital.”
Bolden said he reserves judgment on Bridenstine for now. “L don’t support him and I’m not against him,” added Bolden, saying he had limited interaction with Bridenstine when he was an administrator.
Bolden also considers himself a skeptic of the National Space Council’s concept, as it creates a new layer of bureaucracy between the NASA administrator and the president of the United States. However, he said Scott Pace’s choice to lead the recently reconstituted council was a good one, as Pace understands the importance of the government’s role in managing spaceflight efforts. “Despite my skepticism, I“I’m optimistic about the potential for the space council under Vice President Pence and Scott Pace,” Bolden said.
Go to discussion…