NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he would not stay on as head of the agency under a Biden administration, even if asked by the president-elect.
Bridenstine, a Republican, represented Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District before President Donald Trump appointed him to NASA’s top position. But he stressed that his plan to step down is not based on party affiliation. Rather, Bridenstine said, he would do so to ensure that the next leader of the agency could be someone with a longer-term relationship to Biden.
“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?'” Bridenstine told Aviation Week. “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.
“I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration,” he added.
Since Trump tapped Bridenstine to lead NASA in April 2018, the agency announced its Artemis program, which now aims to send the first woman and next man to the moon by 2024. The program also aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface by 2028. (The last time people walked on the moon was in December 1972.)
Bridenstine has also encouraged the development of commercial spaceflight in the US. During his tenure, SpaceX completed its first crewed mission in partnership with NASA — the result of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which started under the Obama administration. The launch of Crew-1, the first routine SpaceX/NASA mission, is scheduled for this Saturday (the one over the summer was considered a demonstration).
Going forward, SpaceX and Boeing are expected to shuttle NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station at least eight times in total. Other private companies are also in competition to develop spacecraft that can land cargo and people on the lunar surface.
While helming NASA, Bridenstine has also overseen the launch of the Mars Perseverance rover in July and the Osiris-Rex spacecraft’s successful touch-down and sample collection on the asteroid Bennu.
Biden’s priorities differ from Trump’s in a few key ways, according to Reuters. Biden will likely push back the Artemis mission’s timeline by several years. He is also expected to propose extending US funding for the space station instead of handing control to private space companies by 2025, which the Trump administration had planned to do.
Biden’s administration will, however, probably continue to promote competition between companies like SpaceX and Boeing for spaceflight contracts.
The full details of Biden’s agenda for NASA are not yet fully known. The president-elect wrote in August that he hopes to lead “a bold space program that will continue to send astronaut heroes to expand our exploration and scientific frontiers.”
Bridenstine said he’s optimistic about the future of space exploration under Biden — particularly when it comes to sending astronauts to the moon.
“We are in a good position as a country. 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,” Bridenstine told Aviation Week.