NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says he plans to leave his position at the space agency under the new Joe Biden administration, even if he’s asked to stay, according to an interview he did with Aviation Week. Bridenstine said the decision would be to ensure NASA has the right leader who connects with the new president.
“What you need is somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States,” Bridenstine told Aviation Week. “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.”
President Trump nominated Bridenstine, then a Republican representative from Oklahoma, to lead NASA in 2017. Bridenstine’s confirmation became a contentious one, with many lawmakers decrying the idea of a politician running a scientific agency like NASA. “NASA is one of the last refuges from partisan politics,” former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said during Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing in November 2017. “NASA needs a leader who will unite us, not divide us. Respectfully, Congressman Bridenstine, I don’t think you’re that leader.”
Eventually, the Senate did narrowly confirm him in April 2018, with lawmakers voting along party lines. Since then, Bridenstine has been a very front-facing administrator, often in the public eye touting NASA’s biggest programs and accomplishments. His biggest endeavor has been spearheading NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman to the Moon by 2024.
A lot of questions remain about how a Biden administration would oversee NASA, especially in regards to Artemis. The Biden campaign has said virtually nothing about how the president-elect would set space policy, other than noting that climate change and Earth science would be a big focus of the upcoming administration. In the meantime, President Trump refuses to concede his defeat in the recent election, which was called for Biden by major news outlets on November 7th. That could complicate the access that a Biden transition team gets to NASA and its facilities as the new administration prepares to take over.
Regardless of how the transition of power plays out, Bridenstine says he won’t be involved once Biden takes over. However, he tells Aviation Week that he thinks there is strong bipartisan support for Artemis. “We are in a good position as a country,” he said in the interview. “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 program has yet to receive a significant funding increase from Congress, though. A proposed budget bill from the House would not give a significant boost to NASA for the program, while the Senate has not provided details of how it would fund the space agency for next year.
In the meantime, Bridenstine says he doesn’t know what he will do next and that he hasn’t even started thinking about it. “After you’ve run NASA, to go from doing this to whatever I do next is going to be really hard,” he said. “This has been the greatest experience of my life by far, and I’m so grateful for it. But I am under no illusions. There are a lot of people that can do great work as the NASA administrator.”