Current NASA chief Jim Bridenstine told Aviation Week this week (November 8, 2020) that he would pass on staying on as head of the U.S. space agency, under the new Joe Biden administration. As reported by Irene Klotz of Aviation Week, Bridenstine said he would not stay, even if asked to stay by President-elect Biden. He made these comments on November 8 – the day Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election – while at the Kennedy Space Center to greet the arriving SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts for a planned November 14 launch to the International Space Station (ISS). Bridenstine told Klotz:
The right question here is ‘What’s in the best interest of NASA as an agency, and what’s in the best interest of America’s exploration program?’ For that, what you need is somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States. You need somebody who is trusted by the administration … including the OMB [Office of Management and Budget], the National Space Council and the National Security Council, and I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration.
Bridenstine – formerly an American politician, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district from January 2013 to April 2018 – was nominated by President Trump as NASA chief administrator in September 2017. According to a story in Science that month:
… some critics are wary of naming a politician to lead an agency known for science and technology.
Bridenstine had served on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology during his time in Congress, and he had written about the commercial potential of exploiting lunar resources. As NASA chief, he was expected to be a strong supporter of the commercialization of space. However, prior to his confirmation as NASA chief, he faced stiff opposition from Democrats, in particular, for climate-contrarian comments – comments in direct opposition to the findings of scientists on the subject of global warming – made in 2013, during his first term in the House. Bridenstine had said:
Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.
Bridenstine was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 19, 2018, by a party-line vote of 50–49.
Now, as reported by Aviation Week, he expects to resign on January 20, 2021, but believes the U.S. space program is in a “good position:’
If you look at the bipartisan, apolitical support that we have from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle … there is strong support for Artemis [the agency’s post-ISS exploration initiative to expand human presence to the the moon and eventually to Mars].
There is a political agreement that America needs to do big things in space exploration, that we need to lead the world. There have been lessons learned from the past, and I think Congress is in a good position to make sure that we have sustainable programs going forward.
The thing I think is most important is to have continuity of purpose, and I think right now we have that as much as you possibly can.
Bottom line: Chief NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine plans to step down in January 2021, under President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration, even if asked to stay.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.