WASHINGTON – Jim Bridenstein used part of his last day as a NASA administrator to urge the incoming administration to continue the Artemis program and bring people back to the moon.
A Jan. 19 briefing on the Green Run static fire test of the space launch system three days earlier became an opportunity for Bridenstine, who leaves the agency on Jan. 20 at the end of the Trump administration, to reflect on her nearly three years. of his work and his desire to see the program of the Agency for the Study of Human Space continue.
“How do we build a program that can stand the test of time?” He said, noting the launch and cessation of efforts dating back to the Space Research Initiative three decades ago. “We need our Artemis program, the Moon to Mars program that spans generations.”
The failures of past efforts mean that Bridenstein, born in 1975, was the first NASA administrator not to be alive when humans last went to the moon. “I think it’s important to be the last NASA administrator in history who wasn’t alive when we had people living and working on the moon,” he said. “This is a failure of the United States and of humanity. We need to make sure we lead the world back to the moon and Mars. “
Biden’s incoming administration has not detailed its plans for the space agency. An excerpt from the Democratic Party’s platform, published last July, shows support for the return of man to the moon, but does not support the Trump administration’s 2024 goal of doing so – timeframes that most industry now deems impossible with limited means and technical challenges.
“NASA needs to go back and look at the possibilities of getting to the moon as quickly as possible,” Braidenstein said in an interview after the January 16 green run test at the Stenis Space Center. This is more difficult, he acknowledged, due to a lack of funding for the Human Landing System (HLS) program to develop lunar landings with a crew, which received only about a quarter of the $ 3.3 billion sought by NASA for financial 2021.
In the call, Bridenstein said NASA is still analyzing the impact of reduced HLS funding for this purpose in 2024, given that the bill on omnibus costs was signed less than a month ago. “NASA is doing its job to find out number one if we need to change our plans,” he said. “I have no doubt that the amazing people at NASA will present a number of opportunities for our return to the moon that the next administration can fully buy and support.”
These plans, he said in an earlier interview, should include SLS. “If we’re talking about sending people to the moon, that’s the best chance of success at the earliest possible moment,” he said. “Given the amount of effort and time and investment that has already been made, let’s just spend it over the finish line and then go from there.”
Bridenstine leaves NASA with relatively little noise, like a farewell ceremony. Jim Morhard, the outgoing deputy administrator, posted a video on Twitter in honor of Bridenstine on January 19, thanking him for his work as agency manager.
. @JimBridenstine serves @NASA with determination and passion. This agency achieved stunning feats under his leadership and made history several times. Thank you and Ad Astra! pic.twitter.com/kFVvbJPn7E
– Jim Morhard (@jmorhard) January 19, 2021
“It was an emotional week all the way,” Bridenstein said in an interview. He said he was in Washington just before the Green Run test, “saying goodbye to the people.”
With the departure of Bridenstein and Morehard, Steve Yurchik, NASA’s associate administrator, will serve as acting administrator while the Biden administration nominates and the Senate confirms he is the permanent successor. The new administration did not say when it expected to announce a nominee, but announced its “scientific team” on January 15, including the nomination of geneticist Eric Lander as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Shortly after the election, several potential candidates for NASA administrator emerged, mostly women. They include former astronaut Pam Melroy, former CEO of Aerospace Corporation Wanda Austin, and Kendra Horn, a former congresswoman who chaired the House subcommittee in the previous congress.
“I think the Biden-Harris administration would love to name, from all I understand, NASA’s first female administrator,” said Jack Burns, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado who served on NASA’s transition team for Trump. administration four years ago, during a session of the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on January 14. “Some of the names listed are extremely well qualified.”
In the interview, Bridenstine offered a similar assessment, but without identifying specific candidates. “I’ve heard some names, all very qualified, very capable people,” he said. “I am convinced that the future is bright.”
This transitional work took place quietly and without some of the conflicts and dramas seen in other agencies where the outgoing Trump administration did not cooperate. “The situation at NASA, both during the last transition and during this transition, is actually much closer to normal,” Burns said. “Speaking to the Biden-Harris transition team about NASA, I feel like there is good cooperation.”
Bridenstine said he had no plans for his future after NASA other than to return to Oklahoma and spend time with his family there. “I love space, but I don’t know what the future holds there,” he said when asked if he would like to stay in the industry in some way. “We’ll have to see.”
Bridenstine said it would closely monitor the agency, planning to monitor the landing of the Mars 2020 rover and the launch of Artemis 1 next month. He also promised to support anyone who succeeds him as NASA leader. “Whoever is the next NASA administrator, I will be all-in,” he said in an interview. “However I can help them, I want to help them.”
He repeated this point at the end of the Green Run briefing. “I will watch with great interest,” he said. “There will be a new NASA administrator, and when this person enters, he will receive my full support to do the amazing things that NASA is doing.”