Janet Kavandi, director of NASA's Glenn Research Center, at an event tied to the August 2017 total solar eclipse. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he is advocating for her to be nominated as the agency's deputy administrator. Credit: NASA/Rami Daud

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says he’s pushing to have a current NASA center director and former astronaut be nominated to be his deputy.

At a Space Transportation Association luncheon here June 12, Bridenstine said that Janet Kavandi would be a “great” deputy administrator if nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. His comments were the first time he identified a specific candidate for the job.

“That’s the kind of person at this juncture, given how important everything is right now, that we need as our deputy, and I’m advocating for her,” he said.

Kavandi has been director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland since March 2016 after a year as deputy director of the center. Selected as an astronaut in 1994, Kavandi flew on three shuttle missions from 1998 through 2001. She later served in management positions at the Johnson Space Center, including director of flight crew operations responsible for the astronaut corps, before moving to Glenn.

Bridenstine offered his endorsement of Kavandi after being asked about the status of the deputy administrator position, which has been vacant since the beginning of the Trump administration last January. He said the position is critical given the number of major development activities, including commercial crew, the Space Launch System and Orion, in progress.

“It needs to be somebody who has a lot of space experience, a space professional,” he said. “It needs to be somebody who has run large organizations, who understands the technology. A scientist would be great.” Kavandi has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington.

Another attribute, he added, is someone who is “apolitical,” a reference to Bridenstine’s own contentious confirmation process. “We want it to be bipartisan,” he said. Kavandi was at Bridenstine’s speech but didn’t comment publicly on her interest in the position.

The position of deputy administrator, like that of administrator, requires nomination by the White House and confirmation by the Senate. In a media roundtable June 6, Bridenstine said he expected the White House to nominate someone, but unlike this speech didn’t mention Kavandi or any other candidates for the position by name.

“They’re talking to a number of different people right now” about the job, he said then, referring to the White House’s review of prospective nominees. “Certainly we’re going to have one nominated in the not-too-distant future. The candidates they’re looking at, in my view, would be good.”

Bridenstine, in other comments at the luncheon, said he’s still working to get up to speed having been on the job for less than two months. “I’ve been drinking from a firehose, but it’s been good,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, there’s no shortage of smart people that want to give you their opinions, and I love it.”

Bridenstine, who previously served in the House, received praise from former colleagues who served with him on the House Science Committee. “He’s going to do a good job,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) “I know from my dealings with him, and having worked with him, he’s very collaborative, he’s very smart and he’s very meticulous.”

“I think he’s got the potential to be one of our greatest NASA administrators. I really do,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chairman of the space subcommittee.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...