Former congressman Jim Bridenstine has taken the helm as NASA’s new administrator. The position is a high profile one. NASA’s administrator leads more than 18,000 scientists, engineers, astronauts, lawyers, contract officers, analysts, and security personnel.
Bridenstine took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC while flanked by his family. Pence and Bridenstine met with NASA’s senior leadership after the swearing-in ceremony. The Vice President and the new NASA administrator also spoke with three astronauts – Scott Tingle, Andrews Feustel, and Ricky Arnold – from the International Space Station live. The astronauts sent their hearty congratulations to the new NASA leader.
Bridenstine takes over as NASA’s 13th administrator at a critical time, with the U.S. poised to resume human spaceflight with commercial spaceflight services. SpaceX and Boeing are currently under contracts worth $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively. The need to restore NASA’s leadership in space was a regular theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump signed an executive order to create the National Space Council last year.
The agency has operated without a permanent administrator since President Trump took office. Bridenstine was confirmed in a tense, party-line vote, with the entire Democratic party dissenting. In the past, NASA administrators have largely been approved by unanimous consent.
A pilot with a background in the U.S. Navy, Bridenstine spent five-and-a-half years in Congress as a representative for Oklahoma, where supporters say he had shown leadership on key aerospace issues. Bridenstine struck a moderate tone during his confirmation hearing and assured Congress that he understood the importance of the position.
He has subtly signaled that he may be as, or more, inclusive than his predecessors. Just before administering the oath, Pence said, “Jim Bridenstine understands the words of NASA’s vision to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of mankind.”
After taking the oath, Bridenstine said, “I will do my best to serve our storied agency to the utmost of my abilities as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.” By changing the dated term “mankind,” Bridenstine appeared to recognize the important role women play in human spaceflight endeavors.