Last week, 61 U.S. representatives signed a letter urging Senate leadership to confirm Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, as NASA administrator. His nomination has been held up since September 2017. Meanwhile, NASA is in the midst of its longest gap in permanent leadership in the agency’s history.
Upon Bridenstine’s nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Florida, said the agency should not be led by a politician. They were particularly critical of Bridenstine’s past positions on climate change and LGBTQ issues, claiming they would polarize the non-partisan agency.
But John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Institute, says Bridenstine would not be the first NASA administrator with a political background.
“The one that is viewed as most successful, Jim Webb, who was administrator during Apollo, he was a veteran Washington operator,” Logsdon said.
Webb oversaw America’s first successful manned mission to the moon in 1969, something both NASA and the current White House administration are eager to do again in advance of a mission to Mars.
“We’ve never really finished exploring the moon. We made six trips there between ‘69 and ‘72, which were mainly to show that we could do it,” Logsdon said. “In the years since, people have compiled a long list of scientific questions and technological possibilities.”
Without a permanent leader, however, Logsdon says it will be difficult for NASA to move forward with new missions, which often require collaboration between space agencies around the world.
“If you’re a short-time, temporary person it’s hard to go to the heads of space agencies around the world and say ‘hey, this is what we’re gonna do,’” Logsdon said.
Logsdon thinks last week’s letter, which was signed by both Democrats and Republicans, could give Bridenstine momentum before NASA’s acting administrator retires on April 30th.