NASA acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, will retire from his post starting April 30. Whether or not White House appointee Rep. Jim Bridenstine will be the next NASA administrator is still undetermined.
This week, Lightfoot penned a memorandum letter addressed to NASA employees announcing his retirement. He did not give a specific reason for leaving NASA, but he said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Long Career At NASA
Lightfoot, a rocket propulsion engineer and senior career civil servant started his term as the space agency's acting administrator on Jan. 20, 2017, under the Trump administration.
He replaced former NASA administrator Charles Bolden who served under the Obama administration. Before becoming acting director, Lightfoot had been with the space agency for the past 29 years.
"It is with bittersweet feelings that I am announcing I will be retiring from the agency on April. 30, 2018. I will work with the White House on a smooth transition to the new administrator," says Lightfoot.
He joined NASA in 1989 where he worked at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as an engineer and program manager for the Atlas 5 rocket. He held several key administrative positions at NASA since 2002.
He served as NASA's associate administrator since 2012 before his appointment as acting administrator.
"The grit and determination you all demonstrate every day in achieving our missions of discovery and exploration are simply awe inspiring. I leave NASA blessed with a career full of memories of stunning missions, cherished friendships, and an incredible hope for what is yet to come," Lightfoot said in the memo.
He held the acting director post for almost 14 months, longer than anyone in NASA's history.
Challenge For The New Appointee
President Trump's nominated NASA administrator is Rep. Jim Bridenstine.
The Oklahoma representative's appointment advanced to the Senate Commerce Committee. After a nomination hearing last year, his appointment was stalled after opposition from two Florida Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, who both opted for a "space professional" to lead NASA.
Bridenstine did not reach the 50 votes needed for his confirmation.
Bridenstine is a three-term congressman and a pilot in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Among his advocacies include more private sector involvement in space exploration and a return to the moon's surface by American astronauts.
His nomination was re-submitted by the White House in January. The Senate full session has again yet to vote on his confirmation.
Pressure On Senate To Name New Administrator
Lightfoot's retirement is expected to put pressure on the Senate to appoint a new and deserving NASA head.
The outgoing NASA acting administrator said a political appointee should lead NASA.
"From my perspective, as the one sitting in that chair, it is always of value to have the person the president wants in this position," says Lightfoot in a hearing of the Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space.
The space agency announced that Steve Jurczyk will serve as NASA's acting associate administrator.