NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot told NASA employees that he will retire on April 30, according to a memo acquired by space policy analyst Marcia Smith.
NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot discussing Trump's budget proposal. Photo: AP
Lightfoot has served as the Acting Administrator since the Trump presidency began on 20 January 2017, succeeding Obama-era appointee Charles Bolden. Lightfoot was only supposed to serve until the Senate either confirmed Trump appointee Jim Bridenstine, or Trump came up with another administrator. Neither has happened yet. Science reports:
Last September, the White House nominated Representative Jim Bridenstine (R - OK) to lead NASA. Bridenstine's nomination has been advanced by the committee overseeing the agency, but it has stalled in the Senate because of opposition from Democrats and, especially, two senators from Florida, Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R). Both have expressed their preference that a "space professional" lead the agency.
Science suggests that Rubio's "no" vote could be due to Bridenstine's public opposition to Rubio's 2016 US presidential bid. The Dems' reason for the block is a little clearer: In the past, Bridenstine has cast doubt on the scientific consensus that humans are a primary driver of climate change. This has naturally caused some concern, since, you know, NASA studies the Earth's climate.
In his chipper departure letter, Lightfoot doesn't give a reason for retiring, but he does write that he's looking forward to more time with his family and friends. We reached out to NASA but had not heard back at time of writing.
Climatewire reports that House Republicans would be open to another option to lead NASA. I pray that this time around, the president picks someone who perhaps has an advanced science degree, as unlikely as that may be.