Spaceflight Insider

NASA leadership in transition after resignation of Administrator Bolden

NASA 'meatball' insignia

NASA “meatball” insignia. Image Credit: NASA

NASA Administrator and former Space Shuttle pilot, and U.S. Marine Corps General Charles Bolden resigned on Jan. 20, 2017, following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. NASA’s associate administrator and former Marshall Space Flight Center director, Robert Lightfoot, has stepped in to serve as acting administrator until a new one is nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Shifts at the top

Portrait, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., (former) Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Washington, DC, July 29, 2009.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr., former NASA Administrator. Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

Changes in presidential administrations always result in some administrative shuffling at federal agencies, and NASA is no different in this regard.

As part of an agency employee “town hall” on January 12, NASA presented a retrospective video about Bolden’s career, which can now be found on YouTube.

The video, narrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation actor LeVar Burton, emphasized Bolden’s accomplishments during his tenure as the head of the U.S. space agency.

“Thank you, Charlie Bolden, for propelling us even farther on our journey of discovery and exploration,” Burton said at the close of his narration. “God bless, Godspeed, and we love you.”

In addition to Bolden, Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and agency Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski left the agency as well. According to, she plans to return to teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned her doctorate in aerospace biomedical engineering.

Spaceflight Insider reached out to Radzanowski, but, as of this writing, we have not received word of his future plans.

The man in the center seat

On Inauguration Day, Robert Lightfoot sent out an e-mail to NASA employees explaining his new role and the people who would be handling agency operations during the transition period. That e-mail, obtained by Spaceflight Insider, reads as follows:

Portrait, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., Acting Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

First and foremost, I want to thank Charlie and Dava for their service and leadership of the agency. We are in a good position to move forward toward our challenging goals, and their hard work helped get us there.

As I begin my time as NASA’s acting administrator, I am filled with humility and optimism. To be entrusted with this incredible agency, no matter how long, is an honor, and I commit to serving this team to the best of my ability so we can accomplish our ambitious missions and make this nation proud. Since my NASA career began in 1989, I have been fortunate to be part of some amazing endeavors. From testing Space Shuttle Main Engines and all types of propulsion systems at the Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center, to being part of launching space shuttles, to leading Marshall as its Director and, most recently, being part of the leadership team here in Washington as Associate Administrator – I continue to be proud of each of you and your tremendous commitment to our mission.

I have been privileged to work with incredibly diverse teams of engineers and technicians, scientists, researchers, and many others. I’ve also had invaluable support from the equally important people who answer our phones, keep our workspaces clean, help us buy things we need, make sure we have proper facilities for doing our work, and tell our story by engaging the public and the next generation of explorers. The single common focus rallying these teams, no matter how diverse, was getting the job done and getting it done right. This is why we are the number one place to work in government and why we make the impossible possible. And, this is why I am excited about what we will do in the future!

As the transition progresses, we have some initial assignments from the new administration. Erik Noble has been named White House Senior Advisor at NASA. Greg Autry, who was with the Agency Review Team, has been named White House Liaison. I know you will all join me in giving them a warm welcome to the NASA family and thanking them for becoming part of this great agency. There will be other new and familiar faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate with you as often as possible to keep you apprised of those developments.

As Deputy Associate Administrator Lesa Roe and I work with these new members of our team going forward, I urge every one of you to keep doing what you are doing, look out for each other, and as always, we will achieve great things together.

Thank you for what you do every day for NASA and our nation to expand human knowledge through our science and research, to push humans deeper into the Solar System and keep our astronauts and workplace safe. It takes all of us – NASA, academia, and our industry and international partners – to achieve the big goals we have for the future. Working together, nothing can stop us from fulfilling our dreams of exploration and discovery!

Robert Lightfoot

Acting Administrator

What happens next?

Jim-Bridenstine, official-portrait, 113th Congress

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.). Credit: U.S. Congress

The new president’s NASA transition team includes a diverse mix of individuals with academic, government, advocacy, and industry experience, including the following:

  • Chris Shank, a former staff member for House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas
  • Charles Miller, former senior advisor for commercial space at NASA and CEO for Constellation Services International
  • Alan Stern, former NASA associate administrator for science, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and president/CEO of the Golden Spike Company
  • Steve Cook, former Ares Project Manager, now a vice president at Dynetics
  • Greg Autry, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California
  • Jack Burns, professor at University of Colorado and senior vice president of the American Astronomical Society
  • Rodney Liesveld, a former policy adviser at NASA
  • Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut who flew on three missions and executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Jeff Waksman, a former research fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives.

At present, President Trump has not announced a nominee to replace Bolden (now Lightfoot). However, the Washington Post, Space News, and the Wall Street Journal all have reported that U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., has been considered for the position.

Bridenstine has been a leading space advocate in Congress. The Washington Post story also mentioned two other suggestions for a Trump NASA Administrator: former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and former astronaut Eileen Collins, who addressed the Republican National Convention in 2016.

SpaceFlight Insider contacted NASA regarding reports that former NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale might be returning to the space agency and received the following response from the space agency: Dale has not returned as Deputy… that’s a Senate-confirmed position. Members of the new team are still being processed. Robert is acting Administrator. He’s the guy in charge.

If in fact Dale were to come back, it would not set a historical precedent as officials who have represented one party or the other have returned to the space agency when “their” party has returned to the White House. Two such examples include former Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Alan Ladwig, both of whom served under President Clinton, and who returned to service under President Obama.




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.

Reader Comments

Alan Stern was considered but never confirmed part of the transition team.

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