Space observers have started to notice that NASA has spent the longest time in its history without a confirmed administrator. While the acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, is getting high praise for his stewardship of the space agency, NASA is in need of a steady hand at the helm to help guide it through the changes that have been planned for it and its mission. The space agency will be expected to cooperate as never before with commercial companies while charting a course back to the moon. It is hoped that a firm direction and a strategy to achieve it will pull NASA from the drift it has been caught in for the past decade or so.

Trump was tardy in nominating a NASA administrator

The first reason NASA has gone for so long within a permanent administrator is that President Donald Trump has been tardy in nominating one. He officially nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, in September. By contrast, President Barack Obama’s Nasa Administrator, Charles Bolden, received an official nomination in late May 2009 and was confirmed in July of that year.

To be sure, the Trump administration has moved smartly in other areas of space policy, including the reconstitution of the National Space Council, a group comprising of various heads of departments and agencies in the federal government, including NASA, headed by Vice President Mike Pence.

The purpose of the council is to develop a coordinated space policy that will be followed throughout the government. The National Space Council had its first public meeting during which a return to the moon program was announced.

Partisan rancor is surrounding Bridenstine’s nomination

The other reason that NASA has gone for so long without a NASA administrator was that Bridenstine ran into a buzz saw of partisan rancor during his confirmation hearings.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, led a full scale, coordinated attack of that committee’s Democratic members on Bridenstine’s character and competence. The congressman was accused of being a climate change “denier,” of hating women, and of hating gay people. Nelson accused Bridenstine of being a politician, curious since Nelson himself is one.

Ironically, Bridenstine has received wide praise from the scientific and aerospace communities, as well as some of his Democratic fellow House members. None other than Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin gave the gentleman from Oklahoma his blessing. Bridenstine is considered to be very knowledgeable on space issues, and he has a passion for NASA’s primary, space exploration mission.

NASA Watch predicts that the full Senate will vote to confirm Bridenstine on or around December 11, likely on a party-line vote. Thus he will assume the post of NASA administrator, already the subject of a made up, partisan motivated controversy.