It's official: NASA has a new leader.
Vice President Mike Pence swore in Jim Bridenstineas the 13th NASA administrator today (April 23) during a ceremony at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The event included a video chat with three NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
"It is a great privilege for me to be here today, to be able to usher in on behalf of the president of the United States what we believe is a new chapter of renewed American leadership in space with the swearing in of the newest administrator of NASA, Jim Bridenstine," Pence said. [Presidential Visions for Space Exploration: From Ike to Trump]
Bridenstine, after putting his hand on the Bible and pledging to faithfully discharge the duties of his new office, took to the podium himself.
"NASA represents what is best about the United States of America: We lead, we discover, we pioneer, and we inspire," he said. "I look forward to our journey together. Thank you so much."
Then, it was time to chat with the three NASA astronauts aboard the orbiting lab — Scott Tingle, Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold. The trio congratulated Bridenstine from their perch 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth and welcomed him to the NASA family.
Bridenstine, 42, takes office after an unprecedentedly long and contentious confirmation battle. President Donald Trump nominated the Oklahoma congressman in September 2017, but Bridenstine couldn't get enough votes in the U.S. Senate for confirmation and languished in purgatory for more than seven months.
Those opposed to Bridenstine's nomination cited his past statements about climate change and LGBT issues, along with his lack of a technical background and his status as a politician. Indeed, no elected official had ever served as NASA administrator before.
Bridenstine was finally confirmed last Thursday (April 19), when the Senate approved his nomination 50-49 on a strict party-line basis. All 50 Republicans voted yes, whereas the 47 Democrats and two independents voted no. (Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is dealing with health problems and did not vote.)
Bridenstine takes over from Robert Lightfoot, who had served as NASA acting administrator since President Trump assumed power in January 2017 and is set to retire from the space agency on April 30. Lightfoot's 15-month stint was by far the longest ever served by an acting (as opposed to officially confirmed) NASA chief.
He has also served as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium. Bridenstine holds a B.A. from Rice University in Texas, where he completed a triple major in business administration, economics and psychology; he also has an MBA from Cornell University in New York.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.