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Former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine joins Acorn private equity firm

Forrmer NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is joining a private equity firm.
Forrmer NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is joining a private equity firm. (Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

NASA's former chief Jim Bridenstine just joined a private equity firm that invests in the aerospace and defense sectors.

Acorn Growth Companies said the experience of Bridenstine, who resigned shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden took office Jan. 20 (opens in new tab), will be particularly useful for a new investment vehicle called Aerospace and Defense Fund V. 

The fund is incorporated in Delaware, a common registration location for U.S companies, according to several online listings of companies. Bridenstine himself will be based in Tulsa, Okla., a powerhouse location for the aerospace industry, and will focus on up-and-coming companies in the sector.

Related: Outgoing NASA chief Jim Bridenstine calls for unity in space exploration pursuits (opens in new tab) 

"Innovation is found in small and mid-market companies," Bridenstine, Acorn's new senior adviser, said in a statement (opens in new tab) Monday (Jan. 25). "I'm excited to join this firm and work with disruptors that provide needed innovation to the aerospace and defense industries."

"Jim's wealth of knowledge in the space, military, aerospace and engineering sectors will be invaluable," Rick Nagel, managing partner of Acorn, said in the same statement. Key focuses of Acorn and its portfolio companies will include investments in global mobility and intelligence, he added.

The Biden administration appointed senior-level NASA official Steve Jurczyk as acting administrator (opens in new tab) on Jan. 21, one of 34 acting leaders announced hours after the presidential inauguration. 

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Outgoing NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine peers at the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, prior to a hot fire test Jan. 16, 2021, of the core stage for the agency's Space Launch System rocket. (Image credit: Danny Nowlin/NASA)

Bridenstine is best remembered as being the NASA leader responsible for helming the Artemis program, after the Trump administration accelerated the agency's moon-landing plans to 2024. Late in 2020, eight nations signed U.S.-led Artemis accords (opens in new tab) for moon exploration and Canada announced it would send an astronaut around the moon in 2023 (opens in new tab) on a U.S.-led mission. 

The 2024 deadline is subject to funding and having all the technical matters surrounding a moon landing ready; right now, one of NASA's key challenges is overcoming delays and glitches in testing the Space Launch System rocket (opens in new tab) that is set for an uncrewed mission later this year. Bridenstine also told Congress late in his tenure that he was concerned about receiving less budgetary funding (opens in new tab) than requested for Artemis human landing systems.

Bridenstine's NASA also launched efforts such as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (opens in new tab) program to allow commercial participation in lunar missions, and continued development of large aerospace projects such as the X-59 flight demonstrator (opens in new tab) that is testing quiet supersonic technologies, Acorn noted. In planetary science, the Mars Perseverance rover (opens in new tab), finished under his leadership, is set to land on the Red Planet on Feb. 18.

Vice President Mike Pence swears in new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on April 23, 2018, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.  (Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

Bridenstine — a former U.S. Navy pilot, executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, and Republican Congress representative for Oklahoma — was confirmed as NASA administrator in April 2018. His appointment drew support from the aerospace industry, but he faced unprecedented political contention during the nomination process (opens in new tab)

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.