NASA's new Administrator Jim Bridenstine sworn in by vice president

First act as administrator: Talk to astronauts in space

Jim Bridenstine, NASA's 13th Administrator, on Monday April 23, 2018, at NASA HQ moments after being sworn in to lead the U.S. space agency.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA's 13th Administrator, on Monday April 23, 2018, at NASA HQ moments after being sworn in to lead the U.S. space agency.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After more than a year without an official leader in NASA's top spot, Jim Bridenstine was sworn in as NASA’s 13th administrator Monday afternoon after the Senate confirmed his nomination by one vote last week.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in the former Republican congressional representative from Oklahoma at NASA headquarters in Washington in the James Webb auditorium.

Before calling up Bridenstine, Pence praised President Donald Trump's goals for the U.S. space program, saying that NASA will send astronauts back to the moon and then to Mars.

Bridenstine's wife Michelle and their three children, Walker, Sarah and Grant stood by his side as he took the oath to lead America's space agency. His youngest son, Grant, was smiling ear-to-ear as his father was sworn in by Pence.

 “NASA represents what is best about the United States of America. We lead. We discover. We pioneer. And we inspire," Bridenstine said in his first speech as NASA administrator.

Pence and Bridenstine then spoke with three NASA astronauts currently living on the International Space Station.

"A hardy congratulation to our new administrator," astronaut Scott Tingle said. "Welcome aboard the International Space Station."

Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. space agency was contested by lawmakers who said he did not have the science background or experience in space to lead NASA.

While in Congress, Bridenstine held positions on the House Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Bridenstine is a pilot in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium.

"I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the President’s vision for American leadership in space," Bridenstine said in a statement shortly after the Senate vote.

The last NASA administrator Charles Bolden, nominated by President Barack Obama, left the top position at NASA in January 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration. Bolden, a former NASA astronaut and Navy combat pilot, worked in several NASA departments before becoming administrator in 2009.

Robert Lightfoot Jr. has been serving as NASA’s acting administrator since Jan. 30, 2017. Last month, Lightfoot announced he would retire on April 30, which put into question who would lead the agency. Trump nominated Bridenstine in September and his confirmation was at a stalemate before his confirmation last week.

Bridenstine was confirmed Thursday after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) changed his vote to yes at the last minute. The vote was 50-49.

Sen. Bill Nelson took the Senate floor on Wednesday opposing the president’s pick.

“Congressman Bridenstine's recent public service career does not instill great confidence about his ability to bring people together,” Nelson said. “His record of behavior in the Congress is as divisive as any in Washington, including his attacks on members of this body from his own party.”

Nelson said he didn’t hold anything against Bridenstine as a person, but “the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to bring us together to unite scientists and engineers and commercial space interests and policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration.” 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who previously said he was concerned about Trump’s nomination of Bridenstine, voted for him on Thursday saying he though Trump deserved to have the officials he wants in top government posts.

Officials with Space Florida, the state-funded department leading Florida's commercial aerospace growth, have said they supported Trump's nomination of Bridenstine all along.

"He's shown great enthusiasm and knowledge on commercial space issues and that's very important to us," said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's vice president of government and external relations.

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