Bridenstine sworn in as NASA administrator
Former congressman Jim Bridenstine was sworn in as NASA’s 13th administrator by Vice President Mike Pence. In keeping with the Trump administration’s goals, Pence identified Bridenstine’s role as one of leading the agency toward ushering an era of renewed American leadership in space.
Earth- and space-minded ceremony
With Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bridenstine’s family looking on, Pence administered the oath of office in the James E. Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The April 23, 2018, event also featured a video “visit” from International Space Station Expedition 55 NASA astronauts Scott Tingle, Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel.
Pence highlighted the administration’s space efforts to date, including relaunching the National Space Council (NSC), which Pence chairs; establishing Space Policy Directive-1 based on the NSC’s recommendations to send Americans back to the Moon and then work with the international community to send humans to Mars.
“You have an advocate, an ally, and a champion in President Donald Trump,” Pence told the audience at NASA Headquarters.
Pence also described Bridenstine’s career background as a U.S. Navy aviator, executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, Oklahoma congressman on the Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, and supporter of the American Space Renaissance Act.
“In these last few days,” Bridenstine said after taking the oath, “I have heard numerous times, quote, ‘Welcome to the NASA family.’ I will tell you it truly does feel like a family here, and I am very humbled to be a part of it.”
Bridenstine thanked his family, his congressional staff, and the NASA political staff, who helped him through the confirmation process. He also recognized the help he received from industry, government, and academic stakeholders, as well as members of Congress and outgoing acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.
“NASA represents what is best about the United States of America: we lead, we discover, we pioneer, and we inspire, and I look forward to our journey together,” Bridenstine said.
NASA also arranged for the vice president and new administrator to speak with ISS astronauts Tingle, Feustel, and Arnold. Pence thanked them for their service and asked Feustel and Tingle—both veteran astronauts—how they’ve seen NASA’s space capabilities change over the years.
“As an astronaut over the last 18 years, I’ve seen us progress from the days of Shuttle and retirement of that spacecraft and embarking on a new endeavor after we have completed the space station to move in to commercial crew opportunities and also NASA’s development of Orion spacecraft that will take us off to distant destinations, beginning, we hope, with the Moon and then on to Mars and wherever that might lead us,” Feustel said. “We’re really excited about that and happy to have seen the Shuttle do what it did. It was a magnificent spacecraft, and we certainly wouldn’t have the International Space Station without it. But we’re happy and excited to continue to move on with our capabilities.”
As for Arnold, he said he and Feustel had the privilege of building the ISS during Shuttle missions.
“And now for us to live up here with an international community, on the leading edge of science and laying the groundwork in preparation for exploration, it’s just an absolute thrill to have the opportunity to live and work here with the crew that we’re here with,” Feustel said.
Pence asked Tingle as a new astronaut what the greatest challenges were to in living and working in space.
“The training was fantastic,” Tingle said. “We have a lot of great folks who put their heart and soul into this back at home in all the centers as well as our international partners. The team will water your eyes if you go through the process and watch the process work on yourself as you go through the training. By the time you get to the end of training, you feel so ready to go that you’re not even afraid, you’re not anxious or anything, you just want to go and do the job. And when we got up here, everything clicked really well and fit into the right spots, so a lot of great things to say about our training team back home.”
Finally, Pence asked all three astronauts how the ISS is expected to contribute to NASA’s future human spaceflight objectives to carry out missions to the Moon and Mars.
“One of the most important things we’re doing is an experiment called AMS—a spectrometer that we’re measuring antimatter [with]…trying to find evidence of antimatter,” Tingle said. “And we’re also looking at radiation. The radiation problem is one of the biggest problems that we have to solve if we want to have a more robust presence in space. We have to learn how to send our people long distances in space to protect them from the intense radiation that they will have to live in and work in for that matter.”
Feustel said it is important that humans develop the ability to live off of the planet as “single-planet species don’t last forever.”
“The dinosaurs are evidence of that,” Feustel said. “Catastrophic changes might be far off for us or they might be tomorrow depending on what’s lurking out there in space that could collide with the planet or present other challenges for us. So I think it’s important as humans to understand what’s happening to the Earth, and this is a great platform to do that, and our ability to start into exploration will give us opportunities to live and work in space and provide capability for us not to be a single-planet species.”
Arnold said he believes the ISS is a beacon of hope as to what humans can accomplish when differences are set aside.
“I’d like to think that the groundwork we’ve laid here by the construction of the International Space Station, the science we’re doing together, just the work and trust we’re building with one another, we are laying the foundation for a robust human presence in the solar system,” Arnold said. “I’m encouraged that the United States is going to lead that effort, and what we’re doing here with out international partners—we’re showing what we’re capable of as a species. I look forward to watching the next generation pick up the torch and carry it for us.”
Getting down to business
Bridenstine is expected to get to work on the Trump administration’s space agenda, which includes continuing support of commercial crew and cargo to ISS, developing and flying the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System launch vehicle, and starting work on the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.
He may face some challenges, however, as his nomination was approved by a partisan 50-49 vote in the Senate rather than a unanimous vote. Florida Senator and former Shuttle astronaut Bill Nelson led the opposition to Bridenstine. However, in remarks made on the Senate floor April 18, Space News reported that Nelson expressed a more conciliatory tone.
“I hold nothing against him personally,” Nelson said. “He’s a very likable fellow. My decision is not politically motivated.”
Nelson said he backed the nomination of Jeff DeWit as NASA’s chief financial officer in March and if Bridenstine was confirmed he would work with him for the good of the nation’s space program.
Leaders within the space industry, such as Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, were mainly positive about the confirmation of Bridenstine.
“The Senate vote today marks the beginning of Jim’s tenure at our nation’s space agency as America prepares to return to the Moon and push further into deep space,” Dittmar said via a Coalition media release the day Bridenstine was confirmed. “The Coalition looks forward to working closely with Administrator Bridenstine and his team to support NASA’s human exploration and space science programs.”
Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, said in a statement that it was his wish that the administrator succeed in making NASA the banner of the pioneer spirit.
“New worlds are at hand, filled with wonders waiting to be discovered and history waiting to be made,” Zubrin said. “The chains that have held us Earth-bound for too long are ready to be broken. End the stall. Let’s break them all.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.