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NASA’s Jim Bridenstine Sent The Agency On A Mission To The Moon. Will President Joe Biden Continue The Moon Shot?

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gives keynote remarks at the Humans to Mars Summit, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. Photo: NASA / Aubrey Gemignani
(NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gives keynote remarks at the Humans to Mars Summit, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. Photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

President Joe Biden is filling key leadership positions in his administration, including a new head of NASA. Former President Trump’s appointee Jim Bridenstine stepped down last week, leaving behind legacy that witnessed NASA’s restoration in human space flight from U.S. soil, the launching of Perseverance rover to Mars and promising to launch the first woman and next man to the moon among many other achievements.

Christian Davenport, a space reporter for The Washington Post and author of The Space Barons, said Bridentsine also played an active role in highlighting NASA’s astronaut corps.

“Jim went a long way toward showcasing the amazing talent and the amazing people that the agency attracts,” said Davenport. “We saw a graduation ceremony for the most recent class of astronauts, the astronauts who ultimately would go to the moon as part of the Artemis program.”
LISTEN: A conversation with Washington Post’s Christian Davenport about Bridenstine’s legacy and what’s ahead for NASA under President Biden’s leadership.

Bridenstine announced the agency’s Artemis program, NASA's ambitious goal to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo missions.

“I think Jim was a real champion in that,” Davenport said of the Artemis program. “I think thanks to the leadership of Jim Bridenstine, [NASA] has some real momentum.”

Creating that momentum required garnering bipartisan support for the program. Bridenstine was the first politician to hold the position of NASA administrator. Davenport said that helped him navigate both NASA and congress to build mutual support for the program’s benefit.

“He worked really hard to build bipartisan support for NASA and for the Artemis program,” said Davenport, “He pushed on the science front and tried to marry science and exploration together to rid the agency of those divisions and partisan fault lines.”

Even with Congressional support, the ambitious goal of getting to the moon by 2024 appeared to have too many challenges.

Along with technical issues of the Space Launch, Congressional underfunding hampered the agency from meeting that goal.

“While he does have support for Congress, he doesn't have the full funding support to meet the 2024 deadline,” Davenport said.“That's just one example, in a series of challenges of getting to the moon.”

With Jim Bridenstine stepping down as administrator the trajectory of the agency is unclear. According to Davenport, the President Biden’s team is taking a “hard look at the program, and what is realistic in terms of the timeframe.” Additionally, the Democratic Party’s platform outlines continued support of NASA and is committed to space exploration and discovery.

Other than those comments, the Biden administration remains hush on its space policy plans.

“I actually asked Jim Bridenstine if that concerned him and he said ‘no, it shows me there's an opportunity to educate them on what's going on,’” said Davenport. “That doesn't necessarily mean they're abandoning explanation by any means. I think they just want to elevate science”.

The future of NASA’s leadership is unclear, but there is a possibility that the Biden administration will be moving with a sense of urgency to fill the position in a momentous way.

“I think they're going to be careful to pick people that are confirmable,” said Davenport .“If it is a woman, I think that sends a statement. That would be the first administrator in NASA's history to be a woman, and would be significant.”