Jim Bridenstine will reportedly step down soon from his top role at NASA, saying he would be a poor fit for the job under a Biden administration. Appointed by the outgoing, impeached President Donald Trump, the Republican former congressman ended up being actually competent as leader of NASA, despite his history of climate change denial and lack of a background in science.
A new item will soon have to be added to President-elect Joe Biden’s already lengthy to-do list, as an important vacancy is set to emerge at NASA. Jim Bridenstine, after a three-year stint as NASA chief, plans to leave the role behind, Irene Klotz reports at Aviation Week.
Bridenstine told Klotz his decision wasn’t motivated by politics and that new NASA leadership will be required under Biden.
The interests of NASA and the U.S. space exploration program will be best served by “somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States,” he said on Sunday, after it became clear that Biden had won the presidency. “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,” said Bridenstine, as reported in Aviation Week.
To which he added: “Whoever the president is, they have to have somebody they know and trust and somebody the administration trusts. That person is not going to be me.”
The top NASA administrator made the comments from Kennedy Space Center, where he’s preparing for Friday’s launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. This will be NASA’s first official mission involving a crewed CrewDragon, as opposed to a demo.
That Bridenstine is not someone the Democrats can “trust” is a fair statement. The former Navy pilot is the first elected official to serve as NASA chief; Bridenstine served in Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district from 2013 to 2018. A staunch Republican, he rallied for Ted Cruz back in 2015. In 2017, Bridenstine was hand-picked by outgoing U.S. president Donald Trump to lead NASA, with his appointment confirmed by the Senate in 2018.
Bridenstine was a climate science denier for many years, until finally changing his tune in 2018. Indeed, his anti-science views made him a controversial pick for the position as NASA chief—a decision made even more unpleasant due to his backwards views on same-sex marriage and transgender rights. So yeah, it’s good that this guy, who shouldn’t have been given the job in the first place, is moving on.
Bridenstine’s tenure as NASA administrator raises some very important questions about the position and whether political appointees are even appropriate at the space agency. As to what NASA might look like under a Biden administration, that’s still unclear. Speculation is already emerging that Biden will prioritize climate over space and possibly even delay the planned Artemis missions to land a woman and man on the Moon in 2024. The 2024 timeline was set by President Trump; previously, NASA had targeted 2028 for a Moon landing.