Jim Bridenstine will step aside as NASA chief when President-elect Biden takes over: report

In this October 2019 photo, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine helps unveil two spacesuits the agency is designing for its Artemis moon program.
In this October 2019 photo, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine helps unveil two spacesuits the agency is designing for its Artemis moon program. (Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

NASA will apparently be getting a new leader after president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine won't remain in the agency's lead role in the Biden administration even if asked, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report reported on Sunday (Nov. 8). 

"You need somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the U.S. ... somebody trusted by the administration …. including OMB [Office of Management and Budget], National Space Council, National Security Council," Bridenstine told Irene Klotz, space editor for Aviation Week, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report's parent publication. "I think I would not be the right person for that in a new administration."

Klotz's story is behind a paywall, but she posted on Twitter a series of quotes that aired Bridenstine's reasoning — including the quote above, which you can find here— and his thoughts about NASA's future. For example, Bridenstine seems optimistic about NASA and American space exploration more broadly going forward.

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"There is a political agreement that America needs to do big things in space exploration, that we need to lead the world ... There have been lessons learned from the past, and I think Congress is in a good position to make sure that we have sustainable programs going forward," he said in one of the tweeted snippets. And in another one, he stressed that "there are a lot of people that can do great work as the NASA administrator."

It's far too early to speculate about Bridenstine's successor; the results of the Nov. 3 election still need to be certified, after all, and space policy is likely to be low on the list of President-elect Biden's priorities as he gets his administration up and running. (President Trump has yet to concede and is contesting the results, but his lawsuits and any recounts that are held are unlikely to change the outcome, experts say.)

Bridenstine was sworn in as NASA Administrator in April 2018 and has steered the agency through an eventful 2.5 years. During this time, for example, NASA's Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration got up and running. Artemis aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by 2028, helping to pave the way for crewed Mars missions in the 2030s.

NASA launched the InSight Mars lander, Mars 2020 rover Perseverance and Parker Solar Probe missions on Bridenstine's watch as well. And the agency's decade-long drive to nurture the development of private astronaut taxis is coming to fruition in what appear to be his final few months on the job. SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts on a test flight to the International Space Station this past May and is gearing up for the Nov. 14 launch of Crew-1, the company's first operational, contracted crewed flight to the orbiting lab for NASA.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

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.