NASA’s acting administrator retires without warning, no reason given, Trump and Pence on hot seat

NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr House NASA FY 18 x27 Budget...
NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr

NASA hasn’t had a permanent head for over a year. Robert Lightfoot was standing in as the acting administrative lead. On Monday, the New York Times reports, Lightfoot sent out an email telling everyone his last day would be April 30.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 01: Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK) testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during his confirmation hearing to be administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Democratic members of the committee expressed reservations about Bridenstine's qualifications to head NASA, including his political career and lack of science credentials. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A face only a mother could love

The Times points out that there is no explanation given as to why Lightfoot decided to leave his position now. His only possible replacement, Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK), has had a stalled Senate confirmation process due to how goddamn awful our current Republican leadership is these days. Space Policy Online explains that while Bridenstine’s holdup has been mostly the result of responsible Democratic officials, even Marco Rubio can tell the right time once a decade.

President Trump nominated Bridenstine to be the new NASA Administrator in September 2017 and he was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in November 2017 and again in January 2018 (the nomination had to be resubmitted when the second session of the 115th Congress began).  The votes were 14-13 along party lines, however, and the opposition of at least one Republican Senator, Marco Rubio (Florida), has held up a floor vote.  One or two other Republicans also reportedly would vote against the nomination, though they have not spoken about it publicly.

Rubio and his Democratic Florida counterpart Sen. Bill Nelson are leading the opposition primarily on the grounds that Bridenstine is not technically qualified to run the agency at a time when two new human spaceflight systems — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 and  Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner/Atlas V — are about to begin flight tests this year, and NASA’s own Orion/Space Launch System will do so in 2020.  Democrats also object to Bridenstine’s views on climate change and LGBTQ rights.

Birdenstein is a classic climate “skeptic” and his nomination goes along with Trump and the Republican Party’s push to end NASA as an institution that pursues space exploration and scientific discovery. With Lightfoot’s departure, the normal incompetent pace of this current administration must move into their other gear: manic incompetence.

Lightfoot is already the longest serving acting administrator of the agency. He has steered NASA to focus back on the moon, following the guidance of the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the reconstituted National Space Council. His retirement comes as a surprise and should force the administration to act, especially because NASA lacks a deputy administrator to take over for Lightfoot, says John Logsdon, founder of The George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

“Either the Senate should vote up or down on Bridenstine, or the White House should convince him to withdraw and nominate not only a new candidate as administrator, but also a candidate for deputy,” Logsdon says. “With the president’s recent praise of NASA, he owes it to the agency to provide with a worthy successor to Lightfoot.”

Vice President Mike Pence is supposed to be “guiding” the NASA process. Unfortunately, Mike Pence is mostly interested in whether or not Mike Pence can legally change his name to Messiah Pence the Christ, or if that even matters when running a theocracy.

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