NASA Chief Says He Will Step Down When Biden Takes Office

NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine.
NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine.
Image: NASA

Jim Bridenstine will reportedly step down soon from his top role at NASA, saying he would be a poor fit for the job under a Biden administration. Appointed by the outgoing, impeached President Donald Trump, the Republican former congressman ended up being actually competent as leader of NASA, despite his history of climate change denial and lack of a background in science.


A new item will soon have to be added to President-elect Joe Biden’s already lengthy to-do list, as an important vacancy is set to emerge at NASA. Jim Bridenstine, after a three-year stint as NASA chief, plans to leave the role behind, Irene Klotz reports at Aviation Week.

Bridenstine told Klotz his decision wasn’t motivated by politics and that new NASA leadership will be required under Biden.

The interests of NASA and the U.S. space exploration program will be best served by “somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States,” he said on Sunday, after it became clear that Biden had won the presidency. “You need somebody who is trusted by the administration... including the OMB [Office of Management and Budget], the National Space Council and the National Security Council, and I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration,” said Bridenstine, as reported in Aviation Week.

To which he added: “Whoever the president is, they have to have somebody they know and trust and somebody the administration trusts. That person is not going to be me.”

The top NASA administrator made the comments from Kennedy Space Center, where he’s preparing for Friday’s launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. This will be NASA’s first official mission involving a crewed CrewDragon, as opposed to a demo.

That Bridenstine is not someone the Democrats can “trust” is a fair statement. The former Navy pilot is the first elected official to serve as NASA chief; Bridenstine served in Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district from 2013 to 2018. A staunch Republican, he rallied for Ted Cruz back in 2015. In 2017, Bridenstine was hand-picked by outgoing U.S. president Donald Trump to lead NASA, with his appointment confirmed by the Senate in 2018.


Bridenstine was a climate science denier for many years, until finally changing his tune in 2018. Indeed, his anti-science views made him a controversial pick for the position as NASA chief—a decision made even more unpleasant due to his backwards views on same-sex marriage and transgender rights. So yeah, it’s good that this guy, who shouldn’t have been given the job in the first place, is moving on.


Bridenstine’s tenure as NASA administrator raises some very important questions about the position and whether political appointees are even appropriate at the space agency. As to what NASA might look like under a Biden administration, that’s still unclear. Speculation is already emerging that Biden will prioritize climate over space and possibly even delay the planned Artemis missions to land a woman and man on the Moon in 2024. The 2024 timeline was set by President Trump; previously, NASA had targeted 2028 for a Moon landing.

George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.


Speaking as someone who actually works for NASA* (and voted Democrat since 2004, if that matters), Bridenstine wasn’t bad. Exceptional? Nah, I don’t think he was that, either. But he certainly wasn’t a bogeyman like this site might make you think, nor was he ineffectual, and during our initial town halls with him he answered our questions about both diversity and climate change pretty directly. After that, I mostly ignored him because he was so far up the food chain that he was basically irrelevant to my job.

Some people I work with were definitely very skeptical when he was appointed, but ultimately we went about our work as if nothing had changed. The Administrator is not a topic of everyday conversation, except when he visits to our center. The Administrator’s job is to interface with the President and Congress and also set NASA’s long term direction. He greased the gears so that we could get our work done, and none of the projects I work on were canceled under his watch, and that’s all we really needed him to do. Our frustrations with NASA HQ preceded Bridenstine and will continue after he leaves.

Maybe he deserves criticism for some of his non-space-related political beliefs, but from my perspective, he didn’t let those political beliefs affect us or our work. So I was ok with him.

* I do NOT speak for NASA or for anyone else at NASA. I just giving my personal perspective. Also, every NASA project and every NASA center is different and could have been affected differently by his policies.